Wheat Woes

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has forecasted a higher yield of wheat in Pakistan along with several other countries in the region which could perhaps help make up for the below-average harvests being witnessed in western Europe. A global shortage of wheat has been on the cards for a while and now reduced rainfall in France—Europe’s agricultural powerhouse—has further added to concerns about the cascading consequences.

As it is, the war in Ukraine has had a severe impact with world food prices hitting an all-time high in March. Ukraine, which accounted for 20 percent of global wheat and maize exports over the past three years, is expected to experience a fall in production by as much as 50 percent this year.

These high prices are expected to persist for now and for the FAO’s forecasts to be realised, Pakistan will have to take several measures to put its house in order. Recently, PM Shehbaz Sharif was informed that the current wheat harvest is likely to hover around 26.2m tonnes against the target of 28.9m tonnes. While the government plans on importing wheat in the short-run to instil some sense of stability, it will most likely be impossible to cover the shortfall and meet our domestic demand solely through imports. Firstly, the cereal is in short supply globally because of a poor harvest. Moreover, Pakistan does not have enough dollars to purchase expensive imports with foreign reserves depleting in addition to the widening trade deficit.

Prices will soar even higher if the government is unable to curb smuggling and takes serious action against hoarders who seek to exploit projected shortages and import hurdles. The PM is right in demanding the construction of silos for storage as we will need to plan ahead and be more self-sufficient if we are to survive this incoming crisis. Otherwise, flour scarcity in the market and the high prices will exacerbate food insecurity in the country, impacting the disadvantaged segments of our society disproportionately.

It is unfortunate to see the current state of affairs considering how Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production until a few years ago. It is imperative for the authorities to urgently tackle issues such as water shortages, poor farm management practices, urea distribution, and the impacts of climate change that are holding back our agricultural sector.

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