THIS is apropos the article ‘Catch 22 situation’ (April 5) about another looming wheat crisis similar to the one that we had last year. The article advocated allowing flour mills to procure and stock wheat in excess of their allowed quotas.
This measure is being hailed as the solution to overcome skyrocketing prices due to hoarding by private stockists. This appears to be counterintuitive and will only serve to change the face of the hoarder — from the private stockist to the mill-owner.
Last year’s inquiry into the wheat/flour saga sheds light on this illegal practice. Like the private stockists, the mill-owners also turned into hoarders and traded their available wheat stock at higher prices instead of milling it into flour.
The only real solution is to address the root cause. The Ministry of National Food Security and Research, along with the provinces, is responsible for maintaining wheat stocks sufficient for food security and price stabilisation.
It is empowered by law to be an exclusive buyer of wheat until it has purchased sufficient wheat stock for the purposes stated above.
Last year’s crisis was precipitated because private stockists were allowed to operate illegally when the government was struggling to procure enough wheat. As a result, not enough wheat was available with the government to release to flour mills and stabilise wheat prices. The district administration also failed to ensure that flour mills milled their available wheat stock into flour.
If a similar crisis is to be averted this year, a simple two-step approach must be adopted. First, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research must ensure that its wheat procurement targets are met and private buying of wheat is allowed only after this critical milestone. This will provide stability in wheat prices through timely release of wheat to flour mills, ensuring its adequate supply.
Second, the district administration has to ensure that the flour mills do their job and actually produce flour from their wheat stock so that it becomes available to the consumers.
Dr Muhammad Nauman Anees
Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2021