Asian Development Bank released its report titled, “Impact of COVID-19 and Locust Swarms on Farm Households in Sindh, Pakistan: Analysis of Data from a Cross-Sectional Survey”, evaluating Sindh’s economy in the aftermath of these two cataclysmic challenges.
The report surveyed north of 400 farmers in Sindh to gauge the effect of locusts attack and also measured the impact of coronavirus lockdown on the province’s economy. While the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the locust swarms will become more apparent in the coming months, the report said, the Covid-19 restrictions on the food supply chain and the impact of locust swarms on food security has already been apparent.
Locust swarms emerged first in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces and then in Sindh and southern Punjab. The compounding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and locust swarms raise grave concerns about agricultural production and food security in Sindh Province.
Agriculture is central to Pakistan’s economy, contributing over 19.0 percent of GDP and employing about 39 percent of the labor force. Agriculture is the backbone of the rural populace, which constitutes 63 percent of the country’s total population and supplies a large share of Pakistan’s exports as well.
Pakistan’s provisional growth of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2019–2020 is estimated at –0.4 percent, with agriculture being the only sector showing positive growth, at 2.7 percent, as per Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) 2020 figures.
“The lockdown significantly disrupted food supply chains across all major agricultural products including wheat, vegetables, fruits, and milk with most respondents reporting being unable to market their produce,” the report said, adding, “Severe locust invasions were observed in Sindh, with 73.7 percent of respondents having seen locust swarms in their area.”
The statistics emerging from the surveyed population for the report showed that 37.3 percent respondents lost their wages, 39.5 percent people said that their family members returned from urban areas, 45.4 percent of the surveyed population reported having reduced their nonfood expenditures, while more than half, 58.3 percent, said that they reduced food consumption as well.
For individual agricultural products, the report found that the two major reasons for the decrease in agriculture and the ensuing economic impacts were the unavailability of traders and the inability of farmers to visit market areas and cities. Among less pronounced, but still contributing, factors were farmers keeping their produce for self-consumption and refusing to sell because the “market price was very low”.
Most respondents faced challenges related to farming activities, while farmers from Lower Sindh were more prone to disruptions in their procurement of fertilizer, pesticides, diesel fuel, and machinery. The increased prices of farm inputs, especially seeds, were most commonly cited. Three-quarters of respondents reported increased financial difficulties because of these challenges.
The report said that almost all respondents from Upper Sindh reported locust swarms, with over a third of Lower Sindh respondents stating they had also been affected. Upper and Lower Sindh respondents reported an almost universal lack of government response as a source of information about the swarms or relief in the form of surveys and spraying.
The market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its related policy measures are temporary, ADB report said. The government needs to monitor and ensure the functioning of market activities and the availability of agricultural inputs, as requested by farmers. The locust swarms may require action to both mitigate the damage already caused and to invest in long-term means to help farmers and communities prepare for future locust swarms.