WITH wheat harvest in full swing across the country, we expect to have a bumper crop this year that may address our current food security concerns. Currently, Punjab holds one of the world’s best food baskets where wheat production has been much higher than the targets set by the government. It shows the resilience of the farmers. However, the support prices announced by the incumbent govern-ment might work negatively for these very farmers.

Recently, the government in Punjab has set Rs3,900 per 40kg as the support price, and has withdrawn itself from buying the wheat under the influence of neoliberal economic policies. Besides, it has allowed flour mills to buy directly from the farmers. It is tricky in nature to manipulate the farmers. Apparently, it may seem like a decision beneficial to the growers, but the fact is that it is casting dark shadows on the economic fortune of the very people who provide us food.

In contrast, Sindh has set Rs4,600 as the support price for wheat. This difference in the support prices between Sindh and Punjab would encourage wheat smuggling from Punjab to other provinces, creating a crisis in the local markets. The farmers have been demanding a support price of Rs5,000 per 40kg due to high cost of production.

Moreover, under the current scheme, the exploitative middlemen, say, will eventually get a larger piece of the profit pie. They will purchase wheat from the farmers at low prices, and will sell it to flour mills at much higher rates, reaping a massive profit.

This is precisely what happened in the case of fertiliser and seeds during the sowing season. The government had set the basic rates at Rs2,150 and Rs7,800 for urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser, respectively, but those were sold at Rs5,000 and Rs14,000. The government had provided subsidy worth billions to urea manufacturers. Instead of selling fertiliser at lower rates, they shockingly earned profits up to 46 per cent. This is a cycle of exploitation that the farmers have to put up with all through their lives.

Furthermore, small landholding farmers have already been reeling under uncontrollable hyperinflation, inflated electricity bills, costly fuel, high rates of leased lands, unavailability of water, and environmental hazards. Resultantly, the cost of production has increased and profit margins have shrunk.

On the flip side, the effective presence of governments in the market can provide some relief. Governments should introduce insurance policies on crops to cast away the uncertainties, and boost the farmers’ confidence. There is no doubt that agriculture has the potential to revive the country’s ongoing economic meltdown. It must be reformed, but not at the cost of those who earn their livelihood by tilling their lands. Governments must ensure that the market should not crash, and is run efficiently and smoothly.

Chaudhary Aamir Sohail
Sargodha

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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