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Country Briefs

  Pakistan

Reference Date: 17-April-2020

FOOD SECURITY SNAPSHOT

  1. Near‑average 2020 wheat crop expected

  2. Cereal production in 2019 reached record level

  3. Cereal exports in 2019/20 forecast close to average levels

  4. Prices of wheat and wheat flour near‑record levels in March

  5. Food insecurity persists in some localized areas

Near‑average 2020 wheat crop expected

Harvesting of the 2020 “Rabi” (mostly irrigated) wheat crop started in March in the southern province of Sindh, with the bulk to be gathered between April and mid‑June. The 2020 wheat season started on time last October and progressed well until February. During this period, favourable weather conditions, ample irrigation water supplies and adequate availability of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers, chemicals and labour, allowed farmers to plant an above‑average area and fostered expectations for bumper yields. In March/April, unseasonal heavy rains and localized hail over areas of the main wheat‑producing province of Punjab, delayed harvesting operations and caused localized damage to standing crops. Above‑average rains raise concerns over the worsening of the desert locust outbreak, which has been present in the county since the beginning of 2019, and control measures managed to contain it so far. In fact, the abundant rains in March/April improved vegetation conditions that, together with warm temperatures in April, could support locust breeding, with an increase in locust numbers that may damage late‑planted wheat crops still to be harvested. Overall, 2020 wheat production is expected to remain close to the five‑year average, but below previous expectations of a bumper output.

Cereal production in 2019 estimated at record level

The 2019 cropping season finalized in November 2019 and the aggregate cereal output, including wheat, paddy rice and maize, is estimated at a record level of 43.6 million tonnes.

Cereal exports in 2019/20 forecast close to average levels

Cereal exports consist mostly of rice and wheat. In calendar year 2020, rice exports are forecast at 4.8 million tonnes, almost 20 percent above the five‑year average, reflecting adequate availabilities from the 2019 record output. By contrast, exports of wheat in the 2019/20 marketing year (May/April) are forecast at 200 000 tonnes, almost 75 percent less than the average, after the Government banned wheat exports in September 2019 over concerns about tight domestic availabilities following the below‑average outputs gathered in 2018 and 2019. In addition, reports from the country indicate that the Government is planning to import a total of 500 000 tonnes of wheat throughout 2020 in order to ensure adequate market supplies.

Prices of wheat grain and flour at near‑record levels in March

Prices of wheat grain and flour, the country’s main staples, increased sharply between November 2019 and January 2020, reaching record or near‑record highs in most markets. The significant price increases was the result of tight market availabilities, following the below‑average outputs in 2018 and 2019 as well as higher transport costs, after the strong increases in domestic prices of petroleum products. Successively, prices of wheat grain and flour decreased slightly in February and the first two weeks of March, mostly in response to measures undertaken by the Government to contain the price increases. Measures include the distribution of wheat flour at subsidized prices throughout the State-owned Utility Stores Corporation (USC) outlets and a major cut in prices of petroleum products effective from 1 March 2020. However, prices resumed their increasing trend from the second part of March, mostly supported by an upsurge on demand and transport disruptions related to the COVID‑19 pandemic. Harvest delays due to above‑average rains, provided further upward pressure on prices. Overall, prices in March remained well above their year‑earlier levels and at near‑record highs in some markets.

Food insecurity persists in some localized areas

Overall, food security conditions in the country are generally stable reflecting adequate cereal supplies from the record 2019 production. However, concerns about food insecurity persist in some parts of the country, particularly in western and southwestern areas of Balochistan Province, in the arid southeastern and western areas of Sindh Province and newly merged areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Recurrent drought conditions in Sindh and Balochistan since 2014 have resulted in successive crop failures and significant livestock losses, with severe consequences for the livelihoods of the local population. In addition, localized crop losses were reported due to a winterized emergency (heavy snow and rainfall) in several districts of Balochistan as well as in a few areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan Administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, worsening the food security situation of the affected households. Localized crop losses may also occur due to locust outbreaks in 35 districts of Pakistan.

Prolonged conflict in the northwestern parts of the country along the border with Afghanistan, triggered large‑scale internal displacement. According to UNHCR, as of February 2020, close to 1.4 million Afghan refugees are sheltering in the country. Most of these people are in need of humanitarian assistance and put strain on the already limited resources of the host communities.

The risk posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic, both through the negative impacts associated with a reduction in economic activities and the potential adverse effects on the food supply chain is an additional concern for food security in the country. Recent price increases of wheat grain and flour as well as other important food items, such as chicken meat, milk and onions, are affecting households' access to food.

COVID‑19 and measures adopted by the Government

In response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Government has imposed a partial lockdown starting from 22 March 2020 until further notice in all provinces of the country, with the exception of Sindh Province, where the lockdown is total due to the high number of infected people. However, the restrictive measures were partially applied to people working in the agriculture sector and the food supply chain in order to guarantee adequate availability of food in the local markets.

To mitigate the negative effects of the virus, on 31 March 2020, the Government approved a relief package of PKR 1 200 billion (USD 7.2 billion). Out of this amount, PKR 280 billion (USD 1.7 billion) were allocated for stocking of the wheat crop for future needs and PKR 50 billion (USD 298 million) were assigned for the distribution of food items at subsidized prices throughout the outlets of the USC across the country. In addition, about 20.2 million people, particularly low income households whose livelihood has been severely affected by the virus outbreak, are expected to receive cash support of PKR 12 000 (USD 72) on a monthly basis for a period of four months through the Ehsaas Kifalat Programme, one of country’s main social protection systems.

In response to the high prices of wheat grain and flour, the Government has increased wheat supplies from official stocks to flour mills in an effort to supplement market availabilities.

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