LAHORE: By Thursday, the food department had procured 855,934 tonnes of wheat — 21.29 per cent of its target of 3.5 million tonnes — and distributed gunny bags for around 1.8 million tonnes.
According to the departmental record, the daily arrival of wheat reached around 133,000 tonnes on Thursday, up from 90,000 tonnes a day earlier. Once this rain spell is over in the next few days and harvesting picks momentum in the central Punjab region, the daily arrival would pick up pace.
With the pace of procurement, reports of administrative highhandedness also started emerging on Thursday. Flour Mills Association President Asim Raza said the district administration, in its enthusiasm to meet targets, is overacting or reacting.
“The department officials are more familiar with procurement fluctuations and handle it better, not the district administration. Narowal Flour Mills had declared stocks and the department officials recognised the fact, but the assistant commissioner refused to listen, ordered confiscation of the stock and arrest of mills staff.
“The food department officials were on strike on Thursday against the district administration,” he told Dawn, and said such reports are pouring in from Sargodha and Faisalabad zones as well.
“In the last few days, wind and thunderstorms in central and upper Punjab have delayed, or slowed down, wheat harvest and its arrival in the procurement centres,” said an official of the food department.
Otherwise, its arrival in normal circumstances should cross 200,000 tonnes a day. Hopefully, normalcy would return to procurement in the next few days, he maintained.
“The quantum of arrival in the next few days will also indicate the crop size, which has been a matter of confusion so far. The country has not crossed 25 million tonnes in the last three years, with Punjab sticking around 18 million tonnes. Punjab, where farmers have been reporting three to four maunds improvement on last year’s yield, may finally define the national figure. Next week or so would be crucial; if wheat arrival goes beyond 200,000 tonnes, with rising trend, the crop size will be easy to measure,” said Naeem Hotiana, a farmer from Pakpattan.
If Punjab crossed the 19 million tonnes mark, the country might be able to go beyond 26 million tonnes — making the next flour season easy, both for the government and the people, he concluded.
“If the price of wheat in the open market is something to go by, the signs are that the crop size is healthy. The price in the open market has dropped by Rs150 per maund in the last few days — from Rs1,950 to Rs1,800 per maund.
“However, this latest panic in official circles may hit the procurement and price. The situation was normal — the millers purchasing without hindrance and farmers carrying it to the buyers of their choice — till two days ago. This sudden turn of events, however, may have some unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
“The millers, however, hope the situation gets normal quickly and the Punjab government realises the futility of its overreaction to routine fluctuations in wheat arrival to food department centres. It also needs to realise that the department is procuring wheat, not the district administration,” explained Majid Abdullah, a miller from the city.
Meanwhile, Senior Minister Abdul Aleem Khan claimed that the food department had achieved 25pc of its 3.5 million tonnes wheat procurement target since launching the drive to buy grains from April 15.
He said the procurement drive was in full swing in various districts of the province where 51pc of gunny bags had been distributed, while 856,000 tonnes of the grain had so far been procured.
He said the government was paying farmers at a rate of Rs1,800 per maund and claimed that wheat production in Punjab was much better this year though the rain spell had damaged the crop at some points.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2021