Pakistan's wheat imports from Russia have surged more than eightfold due to disruptions in supply from Ukraine. In the first eight months of the 2022–23 marketing year, Pakistan, the fifth-most populous country in the world, rose to the position of fifth-largest importer of Russian wheat.
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Ukraine was the primary wheat supplier to Pakistan in the previous marketing year 2021-22 with exports to the country reaching 1.3 million mt. But the Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted this supply, making Russia the top exporter of wheat to the country. Russia has provided almost 1.5 million mt of wheat in the current marketing year.
"This is the most serious increase in purchases among the largest importers," the Russian Union of Grain Exporters said.
The Pakistani government limited the private sector from importing wheat, and this has been purchased in recent months on an agreement between the Russian Federation and the government. For a delivery between Feb. 1 and March 31, the government arm Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) authorized the purchase of 450,000 mt of wheat from Russia at a price of $372/mt. The first loaded ship with 50,000 mt arrived at Gwadar Port on March 2.
The distribution of government-owned wheat to flour mills is controlled to ensure that enough wheat is available throughout the year. The Pakistani government has reassured the public that the estimated total import of 2.6 million mt of wheat will be sufficient to sustain domestic supplies until the 2023/24 harvest starts in April. The Ministry of National Food Security may make adjustments to the supplies to address any wheat shortages.
Despite these reassurances, Pakistan is facing a net wheat deficit of 2.37 million mt, meaning the country is producing less wheat than it needs to meet its domestic demand, which contributed to its worst-ever flour crisis. Pakistan's total wheat consumption has increased year on year, reaching 29.2 million mt in the current marketing year, while domestic production has decreased to 24.4 million mt. As a result, Pakistan needs to import more wheat from other countries to make up for the shortfall.
Long queues for government-subsidized and high-priced flour have left many people unable to afford basic food. Tariq Sadiq, Managing Director of Sihala Flour & General Mills in Islamabad, said that the country has been short of wheat for the past four to five years, and the situation is getting worse.
"I have at least 12 trucks lined up in the city, the queues show the scale of the crisis we are facing," he said.
Pakistan has one of the highest rates of population growth in the world, but domestic wheat production has not increased correspondingly, exacerbated by floods and urbanization.
Devastating floods hit Pakistan in July and August 2022, causing losses of more than $30 billion and damaging four million acres of crops. The floods in key wheat-producing states, Punjab and Sindh, have impacted production, which together accounts for 77% and 15% of Pakistan's wheat production, respectively.
Sadiq said most wheat cultivation areas are being used for urban development and housing schemes to make up for population growth.
With the month of Ramadan approaching, the shortage of wheat is becoming more precarious. Roti and naan are staple foods in Pakistan, and their availability during Ramadan is essential.
"The price of wheat will get higher and higher," Sadiq said.