LARKANA, Aug 31: Agriculturists and grain traders fear acute shortage of staple food items and eventual leap in their prices in the days to come as export of rice continues unabated despite the fact that floods have ruined over 75 per cent of standing paddy crop in Sindh and Balochistan.

Gada Hussain Mahesar, vice-president of Sindh Abadgar Board demanded that the government should immediately impose ban on rice export to pre-empt the food crisis in the making.

“Our paddy crop has been washed away and chances for Rabi crops on the inundated lands in Sindh and Balochistan are bleak,” he said.

Khair Mohammed Shaikh, president of Larkana Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a PPP leader, said that throughout his 80 years of life he had never witnessed, nor heard about such large scale destruction caused by such massive floods.

“It is, therefore, my duty to show the president, prime minister and other authorities concerned the real picture about acute shortage of food in the days to come. It requires vision to find a way out of the looming crisis,” he said. Irri-6, Irri-9 and Irri-86 varieties of rice have registered sharp rise in prices. Price of a 100kg bag of Irri-6 has jumped to Rs3,400 from Rs2,700, that of Irri-9 has shot up to Rs3,700 from Rs2,900 and Irri-86 price has leapt to Rs4,800 from Rs4,000, according to a survey of grain market conducted by this correspondent.

Masood Ahmed Shaikh, a rice trader, predicted further rise in prices in near future. Traders of Punjab had not only monopolised the rice trade but also ratcheted up prices, he said.

Large scale displacement of people from flood-hit areas has triggered a sudden jump in the demand for grains in cities where they are sheltering in relief camps. The flood survivors in Larkana alone consume 16,000 kg rice in their one-time meal.

“We have hardly 500 tons of rice left in Larkana district now, which is a dangerous situation,” but rice export continued unabated, adding to gravity of the crisis, said Khair Mohammad.

He and Mahesar demanded that the government should immediately impose ban on rice export to pre-empt the crisis in the making because 2 million tons of rice was exported annually.

Ironically, with 75 per cent of paddy crop in Sindh and Balochistan lost to floods the remaining 25 per cent is withering away for want of irrigation water, “which will be completely devastated till October 2010 when the season ends,” said Mr Mahesar.

The country produced 2.5 million tons of rice and exported 1.2 million ton after meeting local demand and paddy was cultivated on 2.4 million acres in Sindh and on 500,000 acres in Balochistan, he said.

The floodwaters would recede till November when Rabi season began in Sindh and Balochistan, depriving growers of opportunity to grow wheat, oil seeds and other crops.

He feared 200,000 labourers connected with rice trade in 1,400 mills in the two provinces would become jobless and ultimately create law and order situation.

“I foresee a chain reaction. Shortage of paddy will result in shortage of its by-product, husk, which is used in brick kilns to bake bricks. Its unavailability will hamper brick kiln trade and render thousands of labourers jobless,” he said.

“We will have animals dying of hunger because of shortage of fodder and food for people will be available in very meagre quantity,” he said.

“We don't have enough stocks of certified seeds of paddy, wheat and oil. So, the government should import rice seeds from Thailand which suit our climate,” he advised.

Pulses and palm oil are also in shortage supply in the district. Raja Shaikh, an oil dealer, said that price of cooking oil continued to soar due to short supply in the wake of floods. Prices of almost all brands of cooking oil were rising steeply with monitoring system to check them, he said.

“We call for importing cooking oil in bulk to ward off the crisis. That's why I wrote to the president, prime minister and the other people concerned to make arrangements on a war footing,” said Khair Muhammad Shaikh, the president of LCCI.

Some traders disclosed on condition of anonymity that wheat flour was being smuggled to Iran and Afghanistan. “The government must stop smugglers' activities otherwise our markets would face serious food shortages,” they warned.

Pulses have registered 25 per cent rise in price and sugar price has jumped to Rs74 per kg from Rs60 per kg, according to retailers. Packed milk (in liquid and powder form) is in short supply.

Grain traders and millers demanded that the government should form committees comprising people with clean slate to assess damage on union council level “because we can't rely on surveys of the revenue department”.

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