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Locust losses estimated to go beyond Rs500bln

Business

May 29, 2020

KARACHI: Agriculturists on Thursday advised the federal and Sindh governments to iron out their differences to jointly combat an impending locust crisis that could render Rs500 billion in losses to agriculture sector.

Agriculturists complained that concern of growers is increasing because of the lack of inaction, lack of coordination between provinces and federal governments, and missing clear strategy to control locusts, since the last year when the crisis emerged in May last year.

The reason for the extraordinary increase in locust infestation is essentially lack of control measures that were not put in place in a timely and effective manner, they said during an online meeting hosted by Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB).

The meeting noted that the country had never faced food availability issues in its history and the locust infestation could change this scenario rapidly. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said thirty percent of area of Pakistan is favourable to locust breeding. With monsoon in coming months, the locust infestation can cause a loss of more than Rs500 billion to the agricultural economy and affect the food security of Pakistan, the participants noted.

“This will be the last straw that will break the back of rural economy which is already suffering due to Covid-19 impacts,” said a participant.

SAB cautioned that the negative impact of agricultural production would have a major impact on the other sectors of the economy.

The meeting was told that the window to effectively control locust was narrow. Comprehensive aerial sprays are required in areas which are inhabited with humans or livestock. Definite roles of provincial and federal governments should be outlined. Currently, there seems to be disjointed efforts, harming the cause of fighting this national threat of locusts. Growers proposed creation of pool of experts and preferably local experts having knowledge and experience to control the menace. They said it’s a regional threat, and control measures need to be coordinated with India and Iran for effective control. The meeting also discussed provincial government’s coercive measures in wheat procurement. In the end of April, when the wheat harvesting was almost over in Sindh, the meeting said, the government was only able to attain 40 percent of its target, which was about 25 percent of the total production of Sindh.

Due to restrictive movements, wheat prices went down from Rs1,580 per 40 kilograms to Rs1,275 to Rs1,350 in the open market, causing losses to the growers. In spite of all this, the government was not able to achieve the target. Narrating the reasons for not achieving the procurement target, participants said the procurement started in first week of April in field, while the harvesting starts in the end of February. About 50 percent of the season has already passed. The food department created hurdles in issuance of packing material (bardana) to growers, according to the participants.

The district administration is raiding and visiting growers in different districts and harassing growers of the wheat in the guise of hoarding. Half of the population lives in rural areas and therefore about 30 percent of the wheat production is retained by growers for their consumption and seed purposes. Sindh Abadgar Board requested Chief Minister of Sindh to direct administration to stop harassing growers, and do not hide their incompetence and negligence of not being able to procure wheat.