Looming wheat crisis

Published October 18, 2022

BAD policy choices from the past have trampled out a pathway through the country’s golden wheat fields that takes us to the shortages of the staple every year. The next wheat harvest is not going to be any different. The outlook appears quite bleak owing to various reasons. The spike in input costs over the last year due to rapid currency devaluation and increase in energy prices is pushing farmers away from the crop upon which hinges the nation’s food security. Wheat could potentially see 40pc increase in input costs. But that’s just one part of the story. The uncertainty created by the delay in the announcement of the procurement price is forcing growers to look for alternative crops with shorter harvest cycles but offering better returns. This is happening at a time when significantly large parts of Sindh and south Punjab are severely affected by devastating floods and soil remains unfit for sowing. Then floods have also flushed away large stocks of seed. With demand likely to stay robust, the supply might have to compromise on quality and we could see substandard quality seed being sown on a large scale. This could have a far-reaching impact on crop health. The wheat crop could lose around 10pc area to floods. It is thus surprising to see the federal government fix a massively optimistic production target of 28.4m tonnes from an area of 9.3m hectares that ignores the ground realities.

Fears over reduction in the acreage and crop yields were being expressed even before the catastrophic floods, which have made them only louder during the last few weeks. That Pakistan will have to import a larger quantity of the cereal over the next several months compared to last year to meet the demand is a forgone conclusion. This is not good news for a country struggling to keep its head above water in the face of the worst-ever balance of payments crisis. With the country already facing prospects of significant food shortage due to climate-induced floods, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called upon the global community for taking collective action for food security on World Food Day. That’s the right call to make. But it shouldn’t be used to further delay long-overdue overhaul of our own agriculture sector and wrong, short-sighted policies. With states worried about their own food security amid surging inflation and food shortages due to the Ukraine war, we must focus on fixing our agriculture.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2022

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