Climate, COVID-19, Locusts and The Agriculture Sector

Pakistan: The Year 2020 proved to be the most challenging year for all economic sectors and significantly affected the agriculture sector. The agriculture sector has confronted a dual hit of COVID-19 and Locust swarms along with unfavorable climatic conditions and rising water insufficiency.

Poor agricultural policies and negligent behavior of authorities is an additional setback to the agriculture sector.  It is imperative for the growth of agriculture that authorities should focus on developing research and development sections.

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Agriculture being the backbone of Pakistan’s economy contributes more than 19% to its GDP employing the country’s 39% labor-force.

Overall crop production and cultivation systems continued throughout lockdown, but a broken supply chain greatly affected the production outcomes.

Shankar Talreja, Research Head Topline Securities, said that unfavorable climatic conditions have drastically affected the rice crop yield by about 5%. This produce is way below the total expected yield from the total cultivated area. Other cash crops like sugarcane (1.4%), cotton (7%), and maize (4%) also showed a significant decline in yield.

Along with unfavorable weather, heavy rains severally damaged the standing fields due to which country missed its annual target of 27 million-tons wheat,” said Muzammil Chappal, Chairman Cereal Association.

Meanwhile, with COVID-19 the production of crops continued uninterruptedly and farmers started harvesting on time. But with the sudden rise in COVID-19 and the implementation of lockdown, the agriculture sector faced a breakage in supply chain which badly affected the farmer profit ratio and ultimately lack of storage facilities damaged the yield, said SVP (SAB) Mahmood Nawaz.

Due to the breakage of supply chain, agricultural produce like fruits, vegetables, and milk beared a huge loss because of their short storage period. Which caused the 40-70% increase in the price of these daily purpose commodities during March-May 2020, Nawaz said.

Another major factor that badly affected the agriculture sector was the Locust attack that started with the start of 2020, during the sowing period of cotton.

Cotton is one of the most important crops of Pakistan, it adds a significant part to the national GDP. Due to several climatic factors, unavailability of water, and lack of proper agricultural practices cotton was facing a consistent decline in total production for several past years.

Due to severe pest attacks, in 2019 and 2020, the total cotton yield dropped to 18% and 13% per acre. Unavailability of timely irrigations during sowing also played its part, Talreja said.

To improve the productivity of the agricultural sector it is very important that the authorities must focus on research and development. Also, develop farmer-friendly policies to support and ensure their and their product safety.

Early preparation and facilitation are very important to combat national disasters and timely prevention of upcoming pandemics and locust swarms. And food workers should be given preference while vaccinating the people for any pandemics. Additionally, the states are now planning to aid the farmers to help them sustain this pandemic.