LAHORE: Despite the wheat harvesting season nearing its end in south Punjab, millions of farmers in the region are in a predicament as the government has not yet started procurement despite fixing the support price at Rs3,900 per maund while the local market was offering even a lesser price for their produce. In such a situation, the farmers are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The procurement target to two million metric tonnes set by the Punjab Food Department for the year 2024-25 is already less than half of the previous year as the government currently has a carryover wheat stock of 20 million metric tonnes.

Waqar Gondal, a farmer from tehsil Jatoi, told Dawn that he had cultivated wheat on 35 acres after the district administration and food department launched campaigns to cultivate the crop. He said he was told by the bureaucracy on wheat cultivation month that the government would purchase all the wheat from the farmers in the province and would also offer a better price.

“However, the government first did not announce a good wheat support price (Rs3,900 per maund) and then it delayed purchasing wheat.”

Govt reluctant to procure wheat while local market offers peanuts

Gondal said the government should have announced the support price around Rs6,000 per maund and provided gunny bags to the farmers at the start of April but thousands of farmers who had harvested their crop had not received a single bag yet. He said he himself needed 2,000 bags to sell his wheat.

Criticising the government of Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, he said that the CM was celebrating Baisakhi festival but did not start wheat procurement where harvesting had been done.

“The farmers would not be able to sow cotton if all their wheat is lying in the fields. And if their wheat produce is not purchased, they won’t have any money to cultivate the cotton,” Gondal shared his apprehensions.

Besides, the government had only announced to purchase wheat only from the farmers having six acres of land, he lamented.

About the rate of wheat, Gondal claimed that the local market was offering Rs3,100 per maund, which was akin to ruining all of farmers’ produce and they would prefer to set the wheat on fire instead of selling at such a low rate.

Another farmer, Sardar Afzal Khan, told Dawn that his tehsil Alipur falls under the Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation Ltd (PASSCO) and he had held meetings with the corporation officials to get bags to sell his wheat. He alleged that the officials were willing to give bags only after getting Rs400 per bag.

“We also have offered the officials to give Rs200 per bag but giving Rs400 per bag would leave us in deficit.”

Khan alleged that the coalition government in Islamabad and PML-N government in Punjab were trying to kill the farmers and it was the history of the PML-N that it would always facilitate the middleman (traders) and not the farmers.

He said the wheat procurement had not started yet and they were covering their wheat in the open while the weather conditions were also turning against them and it was a risk to keep wheat in the fields.

Meanwhile, PTI Senator and the party president of south Punjab Aon Abbas Buppi along with other leaders addressed a press conference at the Multan Press Club. He highlighted the PTI’s stance on farmers’ issues, emphasizing the urgent need to address the significant problem of wheat price in south Punjab.

“The current wheat pricing crisis has pushed farmers to the brink, with wheat being priced at Rs2,700 per maund in the Bahawalpur region. In contrast, during the PTI’s tenure, wheat was priced at Rs3,900, demonstrating the party’s commitment to resolving farmers’ issues.”

Buppi talked about the international pressure, prompting the purchase of wheat from Ukraine and demanded an inquiry against those who profited from the wheat bought from Ukraine.

The government imported 3.2 million tonnes of Ukrainian wheat at the cost of Rs3,100 per maund and subsequently sold in the market for Rs4,500.

Meanwhile, the government has stockpiled four million tonnes of local wheat in its warehouses, exacerbating the crisis for local farmers. The imported wheat has been sold in the market while local wheat is being neglected.

Senator Buppi warned that if the government fails to address farmers’ concerns, it could lead to a severe wheat crisis in Pakistan, possibly resulting in farmers refraining from wheat cultivation next year. He announced that his party would support the farmers and hold peaceful protests against the injustice to the wheat farmers. The protest rally would commence from Multan and move towards Lahore, where thousands of farmers would bring their wheat on tractor-trolleys to block Lahore.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2024

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