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Country Briefs

  Pakistan

Reference Date: 09-December-2020

FOOD SECURITY SNAPSHOT

  1. Area planted with 2021 “Rabi” wheat crop forecast at above‑average level

  2. Cereal production in 2020 forecast at above‑average level

  3. Wheat import requirements in 2020/21 at highest level in 12 years

  4. Prices of wheat flour well above year‑earlier levels in November 2020

  5. Monsoon floods and COVID‑19 pandemic heighten food insecurity

Area planted with 2021 “Rabi” wheat crop forecast at above‑average level

Planting of the 2021 “Rabi” (mostly irrigated) wheat crop, for harvest next April, started in October in the southern parts of the country and will continue until the end of the year in the north. Favourable weather conditions since the beginning of October and ample supplies of irrigation water have supported land preparation and planting activities. The area planted with “Rabi” wheat is officially forecast at an above‑average level of 9.2 million hectares, prompted by record domestic prices and official programmes promoting wheat production. At the end of October, the Government increased the minimum support price for the 2021 wheat crop by 15 percent compared to the previous year and announced plans to support wheat producers with subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides.

The production of the current season will, however, depend on the precipitation performance until next May which is likely to be influenced by the La Niña meteorological phenomenon. In general, the La Niña weather pattern is characterized by below‑average precipitation, which may affect wheat crops in the rainfed areas. In addition, in the northern parts of the country, reduced snowfall during the winter months may reduce the availability of irrigation supplies and soil moisture in the spring that normally comes from snow melting.

Cereal production in 2020 forecast at above‑average level

Harvesting of the 2020 main season crop, mostly rice and maize, is expected to be completed by mid‑December. The 2020 paddy output is estimated at a record 12.3 million tonnes, reflecting the high level of plantings in response to remunerative prices. Damages to standing paddy crops were reported in Sindh Province due to floods in August and locust infestation. The 2020 maize output is forecast at a record level of 7 million tonnes reflecting the high level of plantings due to the strong demand by the feed industry. Adequate supplies of high‑yielding seed varieties, which covered nearly 70 percent of the planted area, increased productivity. The 2020 wheat output, harvested in June, is officially estimated at a below‑average level of 25.25 million tonnes, mostly reflecting reduced yields due to heavy rains and hail in March and April in Punjab Province and by locust infestation.

Wheat import requirements in 2020/21 at highest level in 12 years

Rice accounts for the bulk of the cereal exports. In the 2020 calendar year, rice exports are forecast at 4.0 million tonnes, 13 percent less than the 2019 record.

The country also exports wheat, with quantities averaging to almost 1 million tonnes in the previous five years. Wheat, being a key strategic commodity, the Government regulates its marketing system. In September 2019, the Government banned wheat exports over concerns about tight domestic availabilities following the below‑average outputs gathered in 2018 and 2019. In March 2020, after heavy rains and locust infestation dampened expectations of a bumper harvest in 2020, the Government allowed private imports, exempt of duties and taxes, and started importing wheat through official channels. In the first seven months of the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March) about 900 000 tonnes of wheat grain were imported compared to the 1 000 tonnes imported during the corresponding period in 2019/20. Overall, wheat imports in the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March) are forecast at about 1.7 million tonnes, the largest volume since 2008/09.

Prices of wheat flour decreased in November, but remain at high levels

Prices of wheat flour, the country’s main staple, showed a steady upward trend throughout the year and reached record levels in October 2020, reflecting a tight market supply situation. In November 2020, prices decreased in most markets as recent imports improved availabilities and the Government’s decision to decrease domestic prices of petroleum products reduced transport costs from early November. However, prices of wheat remained well above their year‑earlier levels in November 2020 and were still at near‑record highs in some markets.

Monsoon floods and COVID‑19 pandemic heighten food insecurity

The key drivers of food insecurity in the country are limited livelihood opportunities, high food prices and recurrent natural disaster, amplified by the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Severe floods in August in Sindh Province affected the livelihoods of about 2 million people and caused severe damage to housing and infrastructure. In addition, the prices of wheat flour and other important food items, such as milk, onion and chicken meat, have been at high levels since the beginning of 2020, constraining access to food of the most vulnerable households.

According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, about 1.8 million people were projected to face severe food insecurity (IPC Phase 3: "Crisis" and IPC Phase 4: "Emergency") between June and August 2020 in the administratively merged areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As the analysis was conducted prior the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the current food insecurity situation is likely to be more severe due to declining remittances and income losses associated with the COVID‑19 movement restrictions.

Prolonged conflict in the northwestern parts of the country, along the border with Afghanistan, triggered large‑scale internal displacement. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of September 2020, about to 1.4 million Afghan refugees were sheltering in the country. Most of these people are in need of humanitarian assistance and put a significant strain on the already limited resources of the host communities.

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