News crisis in Pakistan

January 21, 2020

It is a known reality that Pakistan always faces some sort of crises. The newest one in the making is the shortage of flour and subsequent rising prices in Punjab and other parts of the country. For that purpose Punjab Government will provide 5000 tons of wheat to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on regular basis to overcome the shortage of flour. A meeting in Lahore chaired by Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar today decided to take the decision as a goodwill gesture.

If we look back to the history, Since 2008, after the Pakistan People’s Party increased wheat prices from a paltry Rs450 per 40 kilogram to Rs1,000, the country witnessed a remarkable improvement in the wheat yield production, resulting in surplus stocks. Guarding a surplus stock is far better than living with food insecurity. After the 2008 price push, the government of the PML-N paid little regard to wheat prices which gradually diminished farmers’ interest in cultivation. In 2019, the government had to take extra measures to stop middlemen from buying wheat so that the governmental target could be achieved. Unexpected rains in March and April last year also played havoc with the crop. After almost a decade of creating disinterest among wheat farmers, we are now at a point of wheat flour shortage. No government can afford the availability issue of the staple food. After reports of price of flour increasing, the Punjab government has started action against mills and chakki owners and warned them against unapproved increase of Rs 6per kg in wheat flour. On the other hand, flour millers and chakki mill owners are complaining about the short supply of wheat from the Food Department. If the flour price is not controlled, roti price is bound to go up, which will trigger public backlash. So far, tandoor owners have only set a seven-day deadline for the government to control the flour price otherwise they will increase the rates of roti and naan.

The current government wants fair price bazaars to control price hike, which is an ill-conceived and corruption-ridden mechanism. The Food Department supplies subsidised wheat to flour mills for onward supply to sasta bazaars which most of the time never reaches deserving hands. On such reports, the department has also suspended licences of 15 mills and withheld wheat quota of 180 others following reports that these were either selling in the open market the subsidised grain consignments received from the government or simply smuggling the supplies out of the province. The best option to meet the shortage of wheat is to provide incentives to farmers. Besides, immediate administrative measures should watch the supply of wheat from the food department stocks to mills and the supply of flour from mills to market. A good chunk of flour is smuggled to neighbouring Afghanistan. So, vigilant border patrols can also help tackle wheat shortage.

The government wants fair price bazaars to control price hike, which is an ill-conceived and corruption-ridden mechanism. The Food Department supplies subsidised wheat to flour mills for onward supply to sasta bazaars which most of the time never reaches deserving hands.

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The Wheat Crisis