ISLAMABAD: The government is likely to announce the minimum support price for wheat for 2020-21 in the next few days, National Food Security and Research Secretary Omar Hameed Khan informed the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on National Food Security on Tuesday.
MNA Rao Ajmal Khan, who presided over a meeting of the committee, said the minimum support price should be fixed at Rs1,800 or Rs1,900 per 40kg based on the experience gained from the recent wheat shortage across the country.
He demanded that the government announce the support price without any delay as an early announcement of the price would help farmers determine how much wheat they needed to sow based on the seed available with them.
The secretary informed the committee that the price mechanism had been developed by the ministry’s Agriculture Policy Institute in consultation with all stakeholders and provincial governments had also been taken on board.
Mr Khan said the government should understand that the wheat sowing season started on Oct 10 and if the support price was announced in mid-October, farmers would opt for other crops, including vegetables, and this was likely to lead to a new wheat crisis in the country.
The committee asked the national food security ministry to ensure availability of quality hybrid seeds in markets to enhance per acre production of cotton. It regretted that small growers could not benefit from the subsidy announced by the government for fertilisers and directed the ministry concerned to take measures to ensure that the government’s subsidy benefitted such growers.
Earlier, Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhr Imam briefed the committee on the current wheat and cotton position.
He told the committee that a major factor for low output of crops was outdated seed technology.
He said that climate change had caused substantial damage to this year’s agriculture production as Punjab and Sindh were badly affected by this year’s massive monsoon rains, adding that this was the reason why the country could not achieve targets for some crops.
Mr Imam said that torrential rains and flood had damaged over 500,000 bales of cotton in Sindh and an almost equal number of cotton bales in Punjab.
He informed the committee that major reasons for failure to achieve the cotton production target were the quality of seed and whitefly attacks.
He said the government had started giving subsidy on whitefly pesticides and experts of the ministry concerned were working to ensure transparency in this regard.
The minister told the committee that this year the country was short of 1.5 million tonnes of wheat and to meet this shortfall the government had allowed the private sector to import wheat. So far, he said, 430,000 tonnes of imported wheat had arrived in the country, while the rest would reach soon.
The committee members urged the government to take serious measures for provision of certified cotton seeds, fearing that like previous years, the cotton production this year would also decline if certified cotton seeds were not provided to farmers.
FIA Director General Wajid Zia briefed the committee on the outcome of sugar and wheat commission reports and said that as a follow-up NAB had started investigation into sugar subsidy whereas the FIA had initiated probe into sugar export in the light of the findings of the report. At the same time, he said, the SECP was conducting investigation into the sugar scam, adding that the government wanted these agencies to submit their reports to within 90 days.
Mr Zia said that in order to tackle the weaknesses pointed out by the commission’s reports, the government had set up a committee under Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar to bring reforms to sugar policy.
At this, the committee chairman regretted that even after the passage of five months after the submission of the reports, no significant improvement had been witnessed in prices of sugar and wheat in markets.
The committee asked the government to adopt The Chamber of Agriculture Bill, 2019.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2020