LAHORE: As farmers are taking to the streets to protest against the unavailability — or availability at higher official rates — of fertilisers, the government plays it cool, saying the issue is being “over-projected”.

Media has been reporting protests by farmers in various Punjab towns against the shortage of urea which, they fear, may damage their wheat crop, the most important Rabi crop.

Rehmat Khan Wardag, a progressive farmer from Rahim Yar Khan, tells Dawn by phone that urea is either unavailable or one has to pay at least Rs2,800 against Rs1,768 per 50kg bag official rate of the compost to get the supplies. “Even if one stands in long queues to get fertiliser at the official rate, he fails to get even a single bag of the compost. You have to pay for getting supplies from the black market.”

He says that the looting of a fertiliser-laden truck in Badin district of Sindh is a sign of frustration among the farmers, who are not finding the compost.

Mr Wardag warns that the situation may worsen and frustrated people may come to plunder warehouses of fertiliser dealers if the government does not take the required steps.

50kg of fertiliser being sold at Rs2,800 against Rs1,768 official rate

Kissan Ittehad Pakistan president Khalid Khokhar fears a five to 10 per cent drop in wheat yield if authorities fail to ensure provision of urea at the earliest. He says that after failing to get hold of diammonium phosphate (DAP) because of it being over-priced (Rs9,000 against Rs4,000 last season), the wheat growers had been relying on urea compost to get a healthy crop this season, but urea too is being sold at exorbitant rates against its officially notified rate of Rs1,768 per 50kg bag.

Mr Khokhar fears food security issues in the near future if the country could not harvest a good crop of grain because wheat is also under stress due to shortage of fertilisers in India.

When both the South Asian countries will enter the world market, the grain prices there will automatically go up and may reach up to Rs4,000 per 40kg, particularly if God forbid there is a war between Russia and Ukraine, two giant wheat exporters, as their forces are seeing eye to eye at the borders, he says.

This high priced wheat will not only overburden the national kitty but will also create a law and order situation when urban consumers will fail to get wheat flour in plenty and at affordable rates, he cautions.

Food authorities though admit there is a fertiliser crisis in the country, they say it is being over-projected on the media. “Even election days photo-shopped pictures are being used to give the impression of long queues outside dealer shops,” a senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research claims.

He, however, says that with the first rain in January the urea issue will subside as the wheat crop will then be aged by 50 to 55 days and in more need of favourable weather than compost.

The official admits that the opening stock of urea in Punjab, which produces over 76pc of the grain, was just 0.116 million tonnes this season against over 0.477m tonnes opening stock last year, while the federal government also failed to import in time 0.1m tonnes compost.

This supply and demand gap was further widened by panic buying due to ‘false’ reports that the government is going to impose 17pc GST on fertiliser, or that it is ending subsidy on gas supplies to fertiliser factories that will take the per bag compost price to Rs3,000, or even that one of the largest factories is going to shut its operation by the end of this month, the official says.

“Believing the reports, many farmers purchased the compost more than their requirements and hoarded the same for next crops. At least 40,000m to 50,000m tonnes of urea are presently lying (hoarded) with the farmers.”

The official also holds the fertiliser companies responsible for the crisis as some of these have linked the sale of urea with their other products, like Nitro-phosphate whose application season has come to an end and is sold at less than the prescribed price in the local markets.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022

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