The unseasonal rain that was followed by a devastating hailstorm during April has wreak havoc in wheat-producing regions of Pakistan.
While citizens in major urban cities faced hardships in terms of inundated drains, flash floods, and loss of life, farmers saw their crops being decimated by torrential rains, strong winds, and hailstorms. According to one estimate, around 150,000 tons of mature wheat crops are said to be damaged during April 15th and April 17th.
Different parts of the country, primarily in Punjab were severely affected by the devastating rains which started on April 14. The rains affected wheat crops in Hasilpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur, Multan, Faisalabad, Khanewal, and Jhang.
There were also reports of loss of life as 39 people perished with 130 injured across the country due to these rains.
Wheat – the Staple food crop of Pakistan:
Wheat is a major staple food crop in Pakistan and is grown on large acreages. 60% of an average Pakistani diet consists of wheat and the per capita consumption is around 125kg. Currently, wheat is being cultivated on more than 16 million acres in Punjab during the “rabi” season which is the harvesting season in the subcontinent. Production targets for 2018-19 were set at 19.5 million tons.
However, according to these latest developments, the Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Mr. Sahibzada Muhammad Sultan has announced that Pakistani farmers will not be able to meet this target.
Addressing a press conference on 28th May 2019, he said that torrential rain and hailstorm resulted in a loss of 1.5 million tons of wheat. While Pakistan has leftover stock from last year of around 3.7 million tons, the country will have around 27.9 million tons whereas the national requirement is of 25.8 million tons.
Loss of wheat – further strain on the economy:
Pakistan is undergoing a strict economic correction under its IMF bailout program and the loss of 1.5 million tons of wheat due to rain is worrisome for a variety of reasons.
First, wheat production accounts for 1.7 percent of the country’s GDP and amounts of 9.1% of its agriculture sector. This means Pakistan’s already fragile economy should brace itself.
Secondly, the wheat crop is being grown across the country and is the preferred choice of farmers, rich or average. Lower production would mean that those farmers that grow it purely for self-consumption will be impacted since they won’t have any to sell in the market and earn extra. It could further lead to low disposable income and therefore impact other industries as well.
Thirdly, due to crops being decimated due to rain increased wheat prices. A single bag of 100 kg was priced at Rs 3,150 in the open market. While the rains were not the only reason as there was an increase in wheat exports, it was the shortage of wheat in Punjab that pushed wheat from Sindh coming into the rain-hit province, increasing the prices. However, the government has decided to ban wheat export as there is an ongoing price hike due to the missed targets.
As wheat is part of Pakistan exports, it is causing pressure on wheat farmers who are now stockpiling it for better export opportunities, further increasing the price of wheat.