Tariq Aziz & Tara Orakzai

SHANGLA: The coronavirus pandemic is not only a global health issue, it is also having devastating impacts on the world economy, which are being felt by the agriculture sector. The measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus have directly hit the growers and farmers as the vegetables and fruits they grew during the lockdown period, couldn’t reach the markets and consumers in time.

“The farmers had a very bad experience during the lockdown,” says Zeeshan, who owns orchards of oranges and peaches in his native Shangla district while talking to TNN. “Our orchards had produced high-quality peaches last year. Days before we could market the crop, the coronavirus pandemic had crept into Pakistan and resultantly, the stock could not be transported to other cities and the growers suffered substantial losses,” he informs.

Zeeshan is delighted that most of the orchards in his neighbourhood have produced a fine quality of oranges as well but at the same time, he fears that if the government imposes another lockdown, it will badly affect the farmers. “We hope that the government will not impose lockdown. If any kind of travel restrictions are imposed and markets are closed, we will be the ultimate sufferers as our fruits will not reach the markets,” an anxious Zeeshan remarks.

According to him, the growers are desperately waiting for the plucking season as they toil hard for the whole year to get a handsome amount of cash.

Peaches are abundantly produced in the Swat district as these are grown on about 4000 acres of land. According to a rough estimate, the district produces about 60,000 tons of peaches of different varieties annually, which are also exported to other countries.

A local peach grower Muhammad Younas, who has some 350 peach trees in his orchard, says that both the farmers and the marketers suffered huge losses due to the corona lockdown. Last year, he sold the crop to a dealer on Rs400,000 but at the end of the season, he received Rs300,000 as the trader had also suffered losses due to the lockdown. “I have to reconcile with the marketer on the request of a jirga,” he tells TNN.

“Surrendering 100, 000 rupees out of the total 400,000 rupees means 25% loss,” he adds. Besides, I also had spent money on the labourers and managing other requirements of the farm, he continues.

The coronavirus pandemic also bothered the people involved in the vegetable business. Sajid Ali, a local businessman says the closure of restaurants and eateries affected their trade to a great extent.

“There were multiple reasons,” Ali says. “Since the government had strictly banned gatherings of people, fewer vendors used to come to the wholesale markets. Secondly, restaurants and marriage halls were closed and holding of walima receptions was also banned due to which demand for vegetables fell during the lockdown,” he explains.

He is also fearful about the second wave of coronavirus pandemic, saying things will get worse if the government imposes another lockdown.

The farmers and growers complain that the government did not provide any kind of financial relief to them which could have compensated their losses.

Amid the lockdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Israfeel, a resident of the Kurram tribal district, found agriculture as an alternate source of income. Before the lockdown, Israfeel was doing the job as a polio worker in his native Kurram district. He lost his job and had no other source of income to feed his family. He started farming on his family’s land. He also managed to lease more land from his fellow tribesmen and cultivated different vegetables.

“I had no other option to earn a respectable livelihood as I have already lost the job of immunizer. Luckily, the land is fertile enough and suitable for many vegetables. Irrigation water is also available abundantly. I plan to continue the farming profession to feed my family,” Israfeel remarks.