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April 20, 2019

Wheat and weather


April 20, 2019

Devastating weather has damaged much of Punjab’s wheat crop in the last week. Estimates are that up to 150,000 tonnes of wheat in the province has been lost after hailstorms, torrential rains and strong winds. Additionally, there has been damage to standing wheat crops due to the bending of crops of a vast area. Wheat was cultivated over 16.165 million acres in Punjab during the current season with a production target of 19.5 million tonnes. However, severe weather in southern and central Punjab has left much of the crop damaged. The government is claiming that the losses are not more than one percent of the cultivated wheat, but farmers’ representatives are estimating the damage to be much higher. In Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan, the damage has come through hill torrents, which left around 15 percent of the wheat damaged. With more rain and hail set to continue, the damage to the crop and the livelihood of farmers across the province is likely to get worse. Word is that Pakistan is now unlikely to meet its production target of 25.5 million tonnes of wheat.

The question is: how will the government support farmers in the midst of this tragedy? Meetings have been held and the provincial government has been asked to estimate the losses in each district. The government has also received reports of yellow rust, which will damage more of the wheat crop. While the spell of weather has been unusual, the failure to forecast it is inexcusable. Why did the Met Department not let farmers know that a poor spell of weather was on the cards? The Met Department on its part has blamed the agriculture department for not telling farmers what the appropriate remedial measures would be. The National Assembly speaker has spoken about compensating small farmers, which is an important decision that needs to be taken quickly. And then, right in the midst of the rains, CM Punjab Buzdar’s tweet to farmers to start praying to stop the rains suggested a clueless government. The monetary losses of farmers are estimated to be around Rs6 billion. Many small farmers grow wheat by taking high interest loans, which will need to be repaid before the next crop is sown. All eyes are on the government to come up with appropriate compensation for farmers as well as taking steps to ensure that the agricultural system is less vulnerable to changing weather patterns.

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