Pakistan food crisis blows up as markets run out of aata
Pakistan is facing a dire food crisis as its markets have run out of wheat flour or atta. Severe shortage of wheat has been causing great distress to the people of Pakistan for quite some time and now the situation has become so bad that people are queuing up in large numbers to get wheat.
What’s happening: The price of wheat flour or atta, one of the main staples of Pakistani diet, has reached Rs 140-160 per kg. In Islamabad and Peshawar, a 10 kg bag of wheat flour is sold at Rs 1,500 and a 20 kg bag at Rs 2,800.
People who eat subsidized rations from the government are the most affected. Subsidized flour is sold at Rs 65 per 10 kg bag.
Congestions were reported in markets in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan provinces.
People queue up to get wheat and on one such occasion, a person died in the stampede.
The situation is so bad that mini-lorries carrying wheat are escorted by armed guards to avoid collisions on their way to their destination.
A food crisis has been brewing in Pakistan for the past few months and now mismanagement between the food sector and flour mills has made it worse.
Why the country is running out of wheat: Pakistan had set a target to produce 27 million tonnes of wheat by 2022, but water scarcity and redevelopment of agricultural land have made wheat production difficult.
On top of that, a weak economy and loss of farmland due to floods in June 2022 contributed to a shortfall in wheat production.
Severe floods wreaked havoc in the southern parts of the country and destroyed large tracts of agricultural land in Sindh and Balochistan provinces.
A deal with Russia: In November 2022, Pakistan signed a deal worth $112 million to import 3,00,000 tonnes of wheat from Russian firm Prodintorg.
As Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s largest producers of wheat, Pakistan imported wheat from Prodintorg, knowing that the United States had not sanctioned wheat in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Declining Economy of Pakistan: Pakistan is going through one of its worst economic periods, where the country’s foreign reserves have dropped to $5.8 billion. This is the lowest Pakistan has seen in the last eight years. In such a tight financial situation, Pakistan can only import tenders for the next 3 weeks.
Economists have pointed out that Pakistan’s foreign reserves have continued to decline since the beginning of FY23.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dhar blamed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office for the confusion.
The government also recently ordered malls and markets to close by 8:30 pm in an effort to save energy. Marriage halls were also ordered to close by 10 pm. Even government offices were asked to reduce power consumption by 30%.