‘We went back 50 years’: Pakistani farmers count flood damage
Pakistani farmers are still counting their losses from the devastating floods that submerged a third of the country, but the long-term impact is already clear.
“We have gone back 50 years,” said Ashraf Ali Bhanbro, a farmer in Sindh province whose 2,500 acres of cotton and sugar cane – about to be harvested – have now been wiped out.
More than 33 million people have been affected by floods caused by record monsoon rains, and one of the worst affected areas is Sindh in southern Pakistan.
The province is crossed by the mighty Indus River, along whose banks agriculture has flourished for millennia with records of irrigation systems dating back to 4,000 BC.
Sindh’s problems are twofold.
The province has been inundated with record rains locally, but this water has nowhere to flow as the Indus is already at full flow, swollen by tributaries to the north, and burst in several places.
“At one point, it rained continuously for 72 hours,” Bhanbro said, adding that he lost at least 270 million rupees ($1.2 million) in inputs alone.
“It was the cost incurred for fertilizers and pesticides…we don’t include the profit, which could have been much higher because it was a bumper crop.”
Unless flooded farmland can be drained, farmers like Bhanbro will not be able to plant winter wheat, vital to the country’s food security.
“We have a month. If the water is not drained during this period, there will be no wheat,” he said at his farm in the village of Sammu Khan, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the northeast. from Sukkur.
Pakistan has for years been self-sufficient in wheat production, but more recently has relied on imports to ensure silos are full as part of its strategic reserves.
Pakistan owes billions
Islamabad can barely afford to import – even if it buys grain at a discount from Russia, as is being discussed.
The country owes billions to foreign creditors, and only last week managed to convince the International Monetary Fund to resume funding that cannot even service external debt, let alone pay an estimated $10 billion flood damage bill.
Driving along an elevated highway from Sukkur to Sammu Khan offers a shocking view of the devastation caused by the floods.
In some places there is water as far as the eye can see; where cotton crops are visible in flooded fields, their leaves have turned brown, with barely a visible boll.
“Let’s forget cotton,” said Latif Dinno, a farmer from Saleh Pat, 30 kilometers northeast of Sukkur.
Large landowners are likely to weather the floods, but tens of thousands of farm laborers face terrible hardship.
Many are only paid for what they pick and supplement their income by growing food on tiny plots of land in villages scattered across the province.
These too are under water, and tens of thousands of people have fled their flooded homes to seek refuge on higher ground.
“There’s nothing left to choose from,” said Saeed Baloch, who works with members of his extended family each season, pooling their earnings.
It’s not just farmers who are affected, but every link in the supply chain is feeling the pressure.
“We are doomed,” said Waseem Ahmed, a cotton trader in Saleh Pat, who like many in the industry paid advances to fix purchase prices and hedge against inflation and fluctuations in the market. market.
“Of 200 maund (about 8,000 kg, 18,000 pounds) expected, only 35 maund have been harvested,” he said, adding that he had put plans to expand his business on hold.
At a small collection shop in a usually bustling cotton market in Sindh, two boys unenthusiastically pricked a pile of damp cotton, checking to see if anything could be salvaged.
“The market is closed and even the gins are closed,” shopkeeper Ahmed said, pointing to a row of closed shops.
The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming, but cotton picker Dinno hopes for divine intervention.
“We turn to Allah. He is the ultimate saviour,” he said.