Shahmir Kazi looks at a calamitous situation
The devastation caused by the recent Loss of livestock during the floods has been particularly severe on the livestock that has borne the brunt badly. Though the official sources have always painted rosy picture of the situation of the livestock in the country but on the ground the situation is radically depressing as the livestock has gradually dwindled over the years. Compounding the existing economic difficulties facing the country, the 2022 floods are expected to have a significant adverse impact on output, which will vary substantially by region and sector. Loss in gross domestic product (GDP) as a direct impact of the floods is projected to be around 2.2 per cent of the GDP of the current year. The agriculture sector is projected to contract the most, at 0.9 per cent of GDP. The damage and losses in agriculture will have spillover effects on the industry, external trade and services sectors.
Floods have damaged major sources of livelihood particularly in Sindh, Balochistan and northeast Punjab affecting 84 per cent of agriculture, 82 per cent livestock, 74 per cent labour, and 47 per cent jobs. Lack of fodder, excessive farmer migration and increase in export of meat have contributed to the reduction in the livestock of the country and experts now opine that radical steps are required to devise steps aimed at improving the current situation. The position of the livestock has further suffered a setback owing to the floods that took the lives of more than 750,000 animals of different kinds and this grim development is surely going to cause shortage of meat, milk and other dairy products in the country.
It is reported that around 70% or 500,000 livestock was washed away by floods in Balochistan, followed by northeastern Punjab, where over 200,000 animals were killed. These massive losses are supposed to lead to a 30% to 40% reduction in milk and meat production in the coming months.
The livestock is the backbone of agricultural economy and farmlands could only be cultivable once the buffaloes and cows are available for service and without them it would be difficult to do so. There is a huge shortage of fodder even for the surviving animals due to inundation of croplands in the floods-battered areas and the fear is that the number of animal casualties might go up to an alarming level if they are not provided food.
The arid Balochistan is the country’s largest province in terms of land but the smallest populated region, where nearly 50% of people, mainly in rural and mountainous areas, rely on livestock for their livelihood. It is not only rains and floods that have killed animals in every nook and corner of the sprawling province, which makes up 42% of Pakistan, but different waterborne diseases and infections are also taking a toll on the livestock. A large chunk of the population in the province’s mountainous regions, which solely depends on livestock, has gone many years back in terms of economy. There is already a shortage of meat in many districts of Balochistan and wherever it is available, prices are higher than normal and, in most cases, out of reach of the common man.
Animals are still dying due to starvation as grazing land is covered with water as consumption of contaminated water and eating wet fodder led to parasitic diseases has already made them weak. With the veterinary infrastructure compromised the animals could not get vaccinated. Keeping in view that livestock, as the largest sub-sector in agriculture, contributed 60.1 per cent to agriculture value addition and 11.5 per cent to GDP during the 2020-21 financial year, therefore, the unprecedented loss in this respect has caused excessive damage to the entire agriculture sector itself. It should also be kept in account that more than eight million rural families are engaged in livestock production and deriving more than 35 to 40 per cent of their income from this source.
There was an acute shortage of fodder even before the floods. A major portion of by-products needed to make fodder was exported and small farmers were forced to import food for their animals. Even the surviving animals will not be able to produce milk due to unavailability of fodder. Their breeding will also be affected because of that. Now the situation has worsened and this has already resulted in a surge in the price of milk, meat, chicken and eggs. The loss of buffaloes and cows means an acute shortage of milk. Although Punjab manages 90 per cent of the country’s milk requirements, for small farmers in Sindh it will result in the loss of income.
It is reported that faced with a crisis, small farmers are forced to choose between selling their assets to buy food for the family or reducing their food intake to protect assets. It can take as many as 15 years to recover if things remain the same. The situation requires an emergency livestock rehabilitation plan for the sector to recover. TW