Efforts are underway to meet the wheat procurement target of 8.25 million metric tons, which, till May 15 when the procurement season largely ends, has not been achieved, official documents show.
The target is being considerably missed, raising the possibility of wheat import to keep domestic price surge in check and avert a food security crisis. According to a document available with The News, as of May 15, the Punjab government procured 3.58 million tons of wheat as against its target of 4.5 million tons, Sindh could meet almost half of its target of 1.4 million tons, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) met its own reduced target of 300,000 tons as against the federally set target of 400,000 tons for this province. Balochistan had a minuscule target of only 100,000 tons, which doesn’t have much weight in the whopping national target of 8.25 million tons.
The Pakistan Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO), the federal lead procurement agency, could procure about one million tons of grains out of its target of 1.8 million tons.
Raids are being conducted across Punjab to recover what officials say hoarded wheat. The commodity weighing more than 50,000 tons has been confiscated by the provincial government. However, knowledgeable quarters say the market is already dry, there is no more wheat in the field, and all has been bought by the food department and private flour millers.
Unexpected rains in May damaged the crop and reduced harvest, which, among other reasons and causes, contributed to below-the-target procurement. Punjab, considered the bread basket of the nation as it handles 70% of wheat, missed the target by 20% by procuring only 3.6 million tons till May 15.
The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) had fixed the wheat procurement target for Pakistan Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) and provincial governments at 8.25 million tons. Out of abundant caution, it had increased the minimum support price to Rs1400 per 40 kg at which government will procure the wheat. It had fixed the target of 4.5 million tons for Punjab and 1.4 million tons for Sindh, 400,000 tons for KP and 100,000 tons for Balochistan. At the same time, PASSCO was given a target of procuring 1.8 million tons.
In order to keep vigilant eye on the performance of provinces and PASSCO, the ECC had set up a Wheat Procurement Monitoring Group comprising National Food Security & Research Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, Economic Affairs Minister Muhammad Hammad Azhar and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Babar. It was mandated to coordinate with the provincial governments, involve the public and use technology to ensure the process of wheat procurement by the PASSCO and provincial governments during the harvest season was carried out in an efficient and transparent manner.
The Group was empowered to ensure that the allied issues related to incidental charges, supply of adequate gunny bags to farmers and procurement of wheat by provinces and the private sector as per plan and targets were properly streamlined and addressed to provide a level-playing field to all stakeholders, including the public in terms of provision of flour at the lowest possible price throughout the year.
The major competitor to government agencies was the private sector which has been buying wheat at price of Rs1,450 per 40 kg from the farmers’ field, thus saving them all the hassle of transportation to government procurement centres and avoiding known malpractices and corruption documented in the Wajid Zia inquiry committee report into the wheat scandal.
General reports emerge that farmers have been less interested in selling wheat to the food departments due to various issues - “overweight” problem (take 105 kg and pay for 100 kg), getting gunny bags to fill commodity is an uphill task etc. Private sector pays more and is much more efficient as it picks the wheat from farmers’ field, saving the sellers’ time and energy. This season, farmers avoided to throng the wheat procurement centres due to fear of coronavirus.
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