Agriculture losses: Flooded breadbasket spells economic misery

By AFP
Published: September 28, 2011

Growers picking what little is left in the banana and cotton fields in Mirpurkhas. PHOTO: AFP

Growers picking what little is left in the banana and cotton fields in Mirpurkhas. PHOTO: AFP
Villagers plant radish seeds in a field in Tando Allahyar. Floods that sunk the area’s arable belt for a second year running have piled economic woes on top of a humanitarian catastrophe. PHOTO: AFP
Growers picking what little is left in the banana and cotton fields in Mirpurkhas. PHOTO: AFP
Lack of irrigation reduced chilli output from one million tonnes 10 years ago to half that in recent years. PHOTO: AFP

MIRPURKHAS: Monsoon floods that sunk Pakistan’s arable belt for a second year running have piled farming losses clocking up to nearly $2 billion on top of a humanitarian catastrophe facing up to eight million people in the south.

Crops of grain, cotton, sugarcane, fruit and vegetables have been submerged and experts say the disaster could worsen the country’s already dismal growth and inflation prospects.

(Read: Urgent cause: FAO to raise $18.9m to save livestock)

“It could (also) increase inflation by two to three percent by the end of this calendar year – from 13 to a maximum of 16 percent,” the official said.

Exports are likely to be hit as Pakistan struggles to provide enough food to feed its own population in the wake of the floods, said independent economist Rauf Nizamani.

“The floods will certainly affect the trade and may cause a loss of at least $3 billion to the Pakistani exchequer,” Nizamani said, leaving export receipts at $25 billion for the fiscal year.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that nearly three quarters of southern Sindh province’s crops have been damaged or destroyed by the waters, while two thirds of food stocks have also been hit.

Sindh’s agriculture ministry said the financial cost of crop losses so far was estimated at 163 billion Pakistani rupees ($1.87 billion).

Cotton faces losses of $998 million, income from chilli crops will be down $427 million and both rice and sugarcane will lose an estimated $135 million, said Aghah Jan Akhtar, the ministry’s secretary.

One year after the country experienced its worst-ever floods, affecting 21 million people, farmers were again viewing their fields with despair.

In Mirpurkhas, one of the most fertile and badly-flooded districts, the branches of the cotton plants were blackened with water damage, and the usually white buds were colourless and droopy.

Rice plants that usually bloom above watery paddy fields were completely submerged, while stalks of sugarcane were miserably short at five feet tall.

“This catastrophe struck before families affected by last year’s flooding were able to even start recovering,” said FAO Pakistan representative Kevin Gallagher.

“The floods and rain deepen the risk of losing more vital livestock assets and for some, missing another opportunity to plant wheat and other essential crops.”

“Besides that, we have lost $180 million through the destruction of tomato, onion, banana and other vegetable crops,” he said.

Agriculture makes up 23 percent of Pakistan’s GDP and a senior finance ministry official, who did not want to be named, estimated that the country’s overall growth rate could fall from 4.5 to three percent on current trends.

Pakistan’s largest agricultural trading customers are the United States, which takes more than one fifth of cotton, textiles and rice exports, and China, which takes 15 percent.

(Sindh floods: UN launches international appeal)

Badar Khwaja, a farmer in Tando Bago town in Badin district, forlornly pointed at his flooded paddy fields. He had planned to harvest them just one day after the heavy rains began to fall in August.

“The rains have destroyed farmers and peasants alike,” said Khwaja.

In nearby Tando Allahyar, known for its quality vegetable production, only 2.5 percent of its usual haul is being trucked to market in Karachi, said local grower Qamar Zaman.

“The situation is too critical. We normally feed everyone, but now are ourselves hungry finding no one to feed us,” he said.

Kunri town in Mirpurkhas will lose the distinction of being one of the prominent chilli production areas in Asia as 100,000 acres of the red chilli crops have been submerged, said provincial agriculture minister Ali Nawaz Shah.

“It is yet another blow to our economy,” he said.

In a bitter irony for the farmers, their August harvest due to take place before the floods arrived had been delayed due to water shortage.

A lack of irrigation on Sindh’s flatlands had already reduced chilli output from one million tonnes 10 years ago to half that in recent years.

“Earlier we suffered because there was no water, but now a deluge has destroyed us,” said grower Ghulam Akbar Dars.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • shoaib sultan
    Sep 28, 2011 - 10:46AM

    Dear Pakistan, twice in three odd years we have been visited by these disaster floods, when will WE as a nation decided to build proper DAMS and USE this water, when will WE as a nation decided to build proper DYKES and CONDUITS …. it seems we as a nation have become hostage….such rains will become common place in this day and age due to a global climate change …. i wonder who if any government authority is acting upon this ???? AND IF THEY ARE WHAT CORRECTIVE MEASURES HAVE THEY PUT IN PLACE FOR THE FUTURE …. Recommend

  • antony
    Sep 28, 2011 - 11:54AM

    get India /china to help…Recommend

  • guest-worker
    Sep 28, 2011 - 3:19PM

    two billion $… surely a protection scheme would be cheaper than that

    Recommend

  • Balal Ahmed Khan
    Sep 29, 2011 - 5:32AM

    We are being punished for disobeying Q’uran. We deserve it.

    Recommend

  • Master Ji
    Oct 2, 2011 - 7:57AM

    It is not natural. It is the shortsightedness of bureaucratic structure and greed of leadership.

    Recommend

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