LAHORE: The policy of allowing tax-free import of vegetables from neighbouring Afghanistan and Iran could not stabilise their prices, particularly onions and tomatoes, as profiteers are taking advantage of the situation and are overcharging the consumers.

The local crops of vegetables have been damaged by the devastating floods in Sindh and Balochistan provinces while the surviving crops could not reach the markets because of damaged road and railway networks. This situation resulted in a hike of onion price from Rs50 per kg to over Rs300 and tomato price from Rs90 per kg to Rs400.

Last week, the government decided to go for duty-free import of vegetables from Iran and Afghanistan to rein in the prices. The announcement forced the profiteers to bring their hoarded stocks into the market and thus prices of the two commodities came down for a couple of days.

The prices resurged as the imports failed to meet the local requirements. A local arhti (broker) says Lahore requires at least 100 truckloads of onions but it is receiving only 40 trucks. Likewise, against the daily consumption of 70 truckloads of tomatoes, only 30 trucks bring the commodity wholesale markets of the provincial capital. This difference in supply and demand is causing the price of onions to increase to Rs250 per kg and of tomatoes to Rs300 per kg.

Likewise, rates of other vegetables are also on the rise to the disadvantage of the consumers as the authorities are unable to control hoarding.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government has formed a committee to take a decision on increasing the minimum support price of the all-important wheat crop. It includes ministers for finance, parliamentary affairs, food, agriculture and housing as well as secretaries of finance, food and law departments.

The committee is likely to recommend Rs300 per 40kg increase in the minimum support price, which is presently Rs2,200 per 40kg. The country is already facing a shortage of grain and is importing at least 3.0 million tonnes of it for the ongoing crop year. Sowing of wheat will start in the month of November and it will be harvested in April-May.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2022

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