IS FOOD CRISIS IN THE OFFING?

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 30 - Sep 05, 20
10

The European Union has warned the government of Pakistan that if it does not take befitting steps to overcome the challenges faced by the agriculture sector in the aftermath of one of the worst floods of this century then the country might face the food crisis.

Drawing conclusion from her personal visit to the calamity-hit swaths of agriculture lands submerged with the floodwaters, Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, reportedly said during a press conference that food crisis is in the offing in Pakistan and the country's state machinery should activate to counterbalance havocs the floods played with agriculture sector.

She highlighted water resource management and water storage arrangements as two critical issues that need immediate focus. Citing United Nations, she said floods have damaged food stocks and crops and six million people would require food supplies for survival. Besides, she vowed that European Union would provide seeds and other inputs to flood-affected farmers.

While final results of damage and needs assessments are yet to come, varied estimates are difficult to be cross-verified at present since though sources are equal in credibility but extremely contradictory local and international aid agencies involved in relief and rescue operations in the flood-stricken areas are unanimous on one point flood losses are extraordinary obliterating large tracts of agriculture lands besides impacting livelihoods. The floods that fell smack on people around Indus River in all provinces washed away farmlands spread over an area of 741,497 acres, according to an initial estimate. The floods have not subsided and are still posing serious danger to southern parts of Sindh. In fact, continuity in monsoon in northern areas is intensifying strength of streams.

The first blow of floods destructed crops on 16 lakh 21 thousands acres lands in Sindh that might unfetter 76 billion 6 crore 70 lakh rupees losses, according to a Sindh agriculture department's report. Countrywide, crops over 1.72 million hectares of land out of 23 million hectares have been destroyed, Reuters reported food minister Nazar Muhammad Gondal. "The floods have destroyed or extensively damaged crops, including cotton, rice, sugarcane, maize and others over an area of 4.25 million acres." According to the food ministry, rice crops over six lakh hectares land have been washed away. This might cause reduction of rice output by 1.51 million tonnes, the agency cited officials as saying. Total rice production in the country hovers around 5.5 to 6.5 million tonnes and rice exports earn government substantial foreign exchange.

Thanks to the media bombardment, the government of Pakistan is realising the fact the country might slip in to the food crisis if befitting measures are not taken on war-footing basis. Such measures should focus production side of the agriculture sector since the treacherous streams have mercilessly trampled down the rich farming pastures across the country and are still galloping on southern cultivable parts of Sindh. Realising the gravity of the situation, ministries as well as government institutions independently are trying to shore up the positions of farmers to get them out of financial impoverishments suddenly thundered on them from nature and aggravated by human mistakes.

State bank of Pakistan has asked the financial institutions to tailor financing products to help farmers who have lost ready-for-reaping fields to the floodwaters to rise up to the challenge and restart production when water recedes. In this relation, the call given by the president of Pakistan to commercial banks was positively responded. Heads of major commercial banks have vowed to express solidarity with the flood victims during a high-level meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari. Their reassurance to do something may be taken as reliefs to those who lost inability to meet financial obligations or will become in dire need of money to re-establish their routine lives. The purpose of support to famers and urge for stimulus for them is also to stave off shortage of agriculture produces.

Flood-affected farmers will need wide-ranging helps to start things all over again. Their crops have been washed out, stored grains and seeds have been damaged in flood-stricken areas, and they have no backup whatsoever. In such situation, alone government's incentives will give them hopes to struggle for their survival with whatever they are left with. Though main responsibilities lie on specialised banks such as Zarai Tariqaiti Bank, yet commercial banks need to move forward to shoulder these responsibilities because of the liquidity constraints of small specialised financial institutions. State bank's and security and exchange commission of Pakistan's role in post-flood scenario is as important for as regulators they must ensure claims settlement of insured crops.

Rabi crops are to be sown on time in order to utilise lands before wheat sowing season in November. And in present condition, this can only be done with supply of seeds and other inputs and proper motivations to farmers. Government has decided to push support price of canola by 200 rupees to Rs18,00 per 40 kg from Rs1600 per 40 kg. It would be a measure to improve fertility of lands besides other things.

However, it is feared that wheat production might be affected due to lack of water supply. The floodwaters have destroyed 150 irrigation structures across the country, an estimate reports; and notably 80 per cent of wheat crops nationwide are irrigated while rest is rain-fed. If water supply is interrupted then the result would be underproduction of a staple food. To avert wheat crisis in the country the government has to deploy emergency measures to rectify irrigation system. The crises are multidimensional and post-flood plans cannot afford any apathy in their executions as inefficiency or heyday ignorance will bring about a raft of disasters in the shape of food crisis, which might be more devastating than the floods itself.