Crisis after crisis

July 22, 2020

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The government has belatedly admitted the shortage of wheat in the country as it has allowed private buyers to buy stocks from the international market. In the times of a pandemic, when food security becomes a most vital issue for every country, it becomes harder to import wheat at usual rates. All major wheat exporting countries, such as Russia and the US, have banned wheat exports. That is quite logical. The import of 270,000 tonnes of wheat has been ordered by private buyers, which will reach the country in September, according to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. So far, more than 120 importers have agreed to import wheat. It seems the government, which has restricted flour millers to sell flour at official rates, will have to provide subsidy to the importers. The government wants flour mills to sell flour at Rs850 per 10 kg whereas millers have to buy the commodity at Rs2,000 from private buyers, making it impossible for them to follow official rates.

Deadlock over official rates of flour persists in the country. Flour millers in Punjab want the release of 25,000 tonnes of wheat in Punjab, whereas the provincial government has agreed to release 17,000 tonnes a day. The government insists flour mills are getting against the province’s urban population-based requirements of 16,602 tonnes per day, while millers say earlier they would add up 10,000 tonnes from their own stocks to meet the daily demand. This year, millers were not allowed to buy wheat from farms. By looking closely at the crisis, one can see that from the common man to wheat farmers, retailers, flour millers and chakki owners, all are complaining about the shortage of wheat in the country. Not only the people, Federal Minister for Food Security Fakhar Imam has also pointed out the absence of wheat from the market. Pakistan used to be a country with surplus wheat since 2010. In 2019, for the first time, flour prices soared, and wheat disappeared from markets. For 2020-21, the Federal Committee on Agriculture set a procurement target of 27.03 million tons from 9.2 hectares (22.73 million acres) in 2020 in the sowing season. When the target was set, it was predicted that Pakistan would get a bumper crop this year, almost two million tonnes more from the five-year average (25.38 million tonnes). It never happened. The government should arrange sufficient wheat stocks and lessen production cost so that farmers again turn to the staple food crop.

The government wants flour mills to sell flour at Rs850 per 10 kg whereas millers have to buy the commodity at Rs2,000 from private buyers, making it impossible for them to follow official rates.

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