Floods fuel 'back-breaking' food inflation; onion price rises by five times

By: News Desk
Published: 02:58 PM, 30 Aug, 2022
Pakistan floods
Caption: Labourers carry sacks of potato as they wade amid a flooded market in Lahore.–AFP
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Catastrophic monsoon floods in Pakistan have sent food prices skyrocketing, putting many staples out of the reach of the poor as the cash-strapped nation battles shortages throughout the country.

Owing to the flood that wreaked havoc in various parts of the country, the prices of vegetables, particularly of onions and tomatoes, the key ingredients of almost every home-made meal, have increased manifold, reported 24NewsHD TV channel on Tuesday.

In various markets of Lahore, onion prices have risen by almost five times and the commodity is being sold at Rs480, and tomatoes at Rs 250-300 per kg. All the major vegetables saw an increase in prices.

According to the rate list, garlic and ginger were being sold at Rs400 per kg, capsicum at Rs350 per kg, fenugreek (meithi) and cabbage at Rs350 per kg, ladyfinger at Rs130 per kg, turnip at Rs120 per kg, peas at Rs270 per kg, ridged gourd (Tori) at Rs270 per kg, lemon (China) at Rs200 per kg, Lemon (Desi) at Rs200 per kg, spinach (Farmi) Rs85 per kg, potatoes raw 1st grade at Rs100 per kg, and potatoes 2nd grade Rs90 per kg.

The government has decided to import onion and tomatoes from neighbouring countries, Iran and Afghanistan to compensate the shortage of local onions and tomatoes. The supply chain is hampered by road blockages and transportation restrictions in flood affected area.

The Ministry of Commerce will present a summary to the Economic Coordination Committee, suggesting relaxation of levies and duties on the import of onions and tomatoes.

Furthermore, imports from Iran and Afghanistan will have minimal impact on foreign exchange. Also, commodities will be available in the market at lower price.

“Special arrangements on trade will be made with these countries and import of tomatoes and onions will help in ensuring price stability and market availability of the commodity,” said relevant authorities. 

For that purpose, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of National Food Security and Research and FBR will work together to further facilitate the import of onion and tomatoes.

The floods have submerged a third of the country, killing more than 1,100 people and affecting over 33 million.

Recovery could cost more than $10 billion, according to the planning minister.

The rains -- which began in June, and whose unusual intensity has been blamed on climate change -- have also damaged vast swathes of rich agricultural land and crops. Parts of the mountainous north and breadbasket south have been cut off because roads and bridges have been washed away.

"Things are so expensive because of this flood that we can't buy anything," said Zahida Bibi, who had come to a market in Lahore to get vegetables for dinner.

She told AFP she had to forego some items on her shopping list because inflation had put them out of reach. "What can we do? We don't make enough money to buy things at such high prices."

Onions and tomatoes -- common ingredients in most Pakistani meals -- have been affected the most.

The prices of both had increased manifold, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics said.

But on Monday, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said the price of onions had shot up by more than five times, and that the government was trying to quickly implement policies to stabilise food prices -- including importing from arch-rival India.

"We need to consider getting some vegetables over the land border," he told a TV channel. "We have to do it because of the kind of prices and shortages we are experiencing... Inflation has broken people's backs."

Rains, floods destroy cotton and rice crops

Apart from wreaking havoc on infrastructure, torrential rains and gushing floods have also destroyed the cotton and rice crops in Sindh and Balochistan, reported 24NewsHD TV channel on Tuesday.

“The agriculture sector has been affected by the floods,” said former Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industries vice president Shams-ul-Islam.

He pointed out that cotton crop was very important in Kharif crops in the country’s agriculture, adding that 60 per cent of the cotton crop had been destroyed by the devastating floods.

“Cotton is cultivated on a large scale in Sindh and Balochistan. In both these provinces, the cotton crop was ready and yet to be picked,” he lamented.

- Out of reach -

With millions of acres of farmland still under water and certain roads inaccessible, prices are expected to climb further.

"About 80 percent of the tomato crop in Pakistan has been damaged in the floods, and onion supply has been badly hit as well," Shahzad Cheema, secretary of the Lahore Market Committee, told AFP.

"These are basic items, and ultimately it is the average buyer who will be most affected."

Vegetable seller Muhammad Owais at a market in Lahore was struggling to find buyers at the current high prices.

"Prices have increased so much because of (the flood) that many customers leave without buying anything," he told AFP.

Pakistan was struggling with record high inflation even before the floods, because of rising global oil prices and a balance of payments crisis.

The government found some room to manoeuvre Monday when the International Monetary Fund approved the resumption of a massive loan programme for Pakistan, releasing $1.1 billion immediately.

With inputs from AFP.