Vegetable and fruit prices jumped in Pakistani markets as devastating rains destroyed crops and disrupted supplies, an early sign of how the worst floods in decades are creating food shortages amid a financial crisis, Reuters reported.
Pakistan’s 220 million people are already facing rampant inflation, with consumer prices rising 24.9 percent year-on-year in July. The economy is in turmoil, with rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserves and a record depreciation of the rupee against the US dollar.
This makes the country particularly vulnerable, adding to the extreme monsoon rains in August that killed more than 1,100 people. Damage to homes and infrastructure will run into the billions of dollars, while losses in the key agricultural sector have yet to be fully assessed.
In the eastern city of Lahore, near the border with India and far from the worst floods in Sindh province, the prices of some vegetables have tripled.
“Last week I sold onions for Rs 90 per kg and today the government price is Rs 300 per kg,” said vegetable seller Ahmad Ali. The Pakistani government sets prices for some fresh produce, although traders often ignore the guidelines.
Tomatoes and onions are among the most common ingredients in Pakistani cuisine, and tens of thousands of tons of them are consumed every month.
“Supply of vegetables and fruits to Lahore is decreasing day by day due to floods, rains and destruction of roads,” commented Malik Salim Awan, a vendor at the Lahore Fruits and Vegetables Market. He added that they used to get over 100 truckloads (of fresh produce) daily, but now it’s only 10-15.
Officials said more than two million acres (809,371 hectares) of farmland were flooded, destroying most crops and preventing farmers from planting new ones.
Meanwhile, hundreds of kilometers from Lahore, people must clear their flooded homes while worrying about where the next meal will come from.
“Tomatoes were 60 rupees per kg and now they are more than 200. Even the price of flour is now double,” said 20-year-old Sain Bukash Hussain, whose home in Garhi Yasin village in southern Sindh province was badly damaged.
Sindh, with a population of 50 million, has been worst hit, with 697 mm of rain so far this monsoon, or 466 percent above the 30-year average. Pakistan as a whole has seen almost 190 percent more rain than the 30-year average.
In Dera Ismail Khan, in central Pakistan along the Indus River, vegetable storage warehouses are already being emptied.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government is struggling to secure supplies.
“The rice crop has been washed away. The fruits and vegetables are gone,” Sharif told reporters after a visit to northern Pakistan. He revealed that the floods have swept away 700,000 head of cattle.
Pakistan’s agricultural sector powers the economy and feeds the people, accounting for more than a fifth of the country’s output, employing up to 40 percent of the workforce and producing goods worth about $80 billion annually.
Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar commented yesterday that the government is close to an agreement on the import of vegetables and other edible goods from Iran and Afghanistan and an urgent request has been made to the cabinet to approve it.