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Food crisis looms as vegetable prices spike in flood-hit Pakistan

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Food crisis looms as vegetable prices spike in flood-hit Pakistan

More than two million acres of agricultural land have been flooded and government is close to a deal to import vegetables and other edible goods from Iran and Afghanistan, officials say.

This aerial photograph taken on August 31, 2022 shows a flooded residential area after heavy monsoon rains in Shikarpur, Sindh province.
This aerial photograph taken on August 31, 2022 shows a flooded residential area after heavy monsoon rains in Shikarpur, Sindh province.
(AFP)

Vegetable and fruit
prices have soared in markets across Pakistan as devastating
rains ruin crops and disrupt supplies, an early sign of how the
worst floods in decades are creating food shortages at a time of
financial crisis.

In the eastern city of Lahore, close to the border with
India and far from the worst floods in Sindh province, prices of
some vegetables have tripled.

“Last week, I sold onions for 90 rupees a kg and today the
government price is 300 per kg,” said vegetable seller Ahmad
Ali. The Pakistani government sets prices for some fresh
produce, although traders often ignore the guidelines.

Tomatoes and onions are among the most common ingredients in
Pakistani cooking, and tens of thousands of tonnes of each are
consumed each month.

“The supply of vegetables and fruit to Lahore is getting
lower day by day because of the flood, rains and destruction to
roads,” said Malik Salim Awan, a supplier at Lahore’s fruit and
vegetable market.

“Before the current scenario, we were receiving over 100
trucks (of fresh produce) daily. Now, we receive 10 to 15 trucks
only,” Awan said.

Pakistan’s 220 million people are already facing rampant inflation, with consumer prices up 24.9 percent year-on-year in July. The economy is in turmoil, with fast-depleting foreign reserves and a record depreciation of the rupee against the US dollar.

That leaves the country particularly vulnerable as it counts the cost of extreme monsoon rains through August that have killed more than 1,100 people.

Damage to homes and infrastructure will run into billions of dollars, while losses in the key farming sector have yet to be fully assessed.

Officials say that more than two million acres of agricultural land have been flooded, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.

‘Rice crop has been washed away’

Hundreds of kilometres from Lahore, people must
clear up flooded homes at the same time as worry about where the
next meal will come from.

“Tomatoes were 60 rupees a kg, and now they are more than
200 … even the price of flour is double now,” said Sain Bukash
Husain, 20, whose home in the village of Garhi Yasin in the
southern province of Sindh has been badly damaged.

“What can we do?”

Sindh, with a population of 50 million, has been hardest
hit, with 697 mm of rain thus far in the monsoon period, or 466 percent above the 30-year monsoon average. Pakistan as a whole has seen
nearly 190 percent more rain than the 30-year average.

In Dera Ismail Khan, in central Pakistan along the Indus
River, warehouses storing vegetables are already emptying out.

The government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is
scrambling to secure supplies.

“The rice crop has been washed away,” Sharif told reporters
after visiting northern Pakistan. “Fruit and vegetables are
gone.” He said flood waters had swept away 700,000 livestock.

Pakistan’s agrarian sector powers the economy and feeds the
people, accounting for more than a fifth of the country’s
output, employing up to 40 percent of the workforce and producing goods
worth around $80 billion annually.

Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar said on Wednesday that the
government was close to an agreement to import vegetables and
other edible goods from Iran and Afghanistan, and an urgent
request had gone to the cabinet to approve it.

“Prices are up already. If you go to buy onions you wouldn’t
get it. If you go to buy tomatoes you will get it at a much
higher price,” Qamar told a news conference, citing the fallout
of the floods.

Source: Reuters


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