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August 11, 2020

ADB finds upsetting impacts of lockdown on agriculture sector


August 11, 2020

KARACHI: Wheat harvesting largely remained unscathed of lockdown related to coronavirus, though movement restrictions choked the supplies of highly perishable produces in the Punjab, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) survey report said on Monday.

The survey of farmers in Punjab revealed that wheat harvesting and marketing was spared the negative effects of the restricted movement of goods imposed because of COVID-19, except in the southern districts.

“Restrictions on movement of goods upset the marketing of highly perishable products, such as vegetables, fruits, and milk as they are difficult to store, unlike grains,” said the ADB report. “Disruptions in the food supply chain result directly in income losses for producers and increased food prices, and therefore need to be kept at a minimum under the COVID-19-induced movement restrictions. The rising input prices raise grave concerns about the forthcoming rice growing season.”

More than 400 farmers across 10 districts of the Punjab were interviewed on the impact of the nationwide lockdown and the locust invasion.

ADB survey found that much of the wheat harvest and marketing was spared from COVID-19-related problems. However, vegetable and fruit growers were severely affected because they could not sell their produce owing to market closures and restricted movement of goods.

Milk producers were also affected, as traders were unable or unwilling to buy milk from dairy producers. As many restaurants and markets shut down, the demand for milk collapsed, resulting in low milk prices.

“The gravest concern for the forthcoming rice crop stems from the high prices of farm inputs, which may have a significant impact if not mitigated,” said the report. Another concern is the locust invasion reported by farmers in Punjab’s Okara and Pakpattan districts. Measures to contain the invasion and prevent further crop losses are urgently required.”

Farmers have lost cash earnings during the lockdown. “Coupled with the higher input prices, farmers may not be able to buy the inputs they need for rice production,” said the report. “Because rice is a major staple crop for domestic consumers and an important export product, increased input prices may cause significant problems for Pakistan’s economy.”

About one- third of farm households reported loss of earnings, and 22 percent of the surveyed households had family members return home from urban areas. The lockdown disrupted food supply chains of high-value agricultural products (vegetables, fruits, and milk) and farm inputs, but it had relatively less impact on the wheat harvest and marketing in the Punjab.

“Farm households are burdened by increase in the number of household members and reduced cash income, which result in reduced nonfood expenditures (11 percent) and lower food consumption (9.8 percent),” ADB report.

Locust swarms were reported in the two surveyed districts, with more severe cases observed in Balochistan and Sindh Provinces than in Punjab. The swarms have resulted in production losses for farmers who are already suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Immediate prevention and mitigation measures are required, in addition to midterm measures to prevent a future resurgence,” said the ADB report. “Government response is needed to offset the negative effects of COVID-19 and the locust attacks.”

The outbreak of locust swarms originated from Saudi Arabia. Undetected, they moved to Iran and Yemen, and swept from Iran to Pakistan. The locusts hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces in Pakistan first and then moved to Sindh and southern Punjab.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated that without effective measures, locust infestations would cause up to Rs688.5 billion ($4.1 billion) damage of kharif crops and Rs705.8 billion ($4.2 billion) of rabi crops, assuming 25 percent damage to crops.

“A locust infestation of such magnitude has not occurred in Pakistan for more than 25 years and, with outdated infrastructure, the government is ill-equipped to fight the attacks.”