• Directs Passco to speed up procurement
• KP govt to purchase grain ‘from local growers’

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered an increase in the wheat procurement target from 1.4 million tonnes to 1.8 million tonnes after protests by farmers over delays in the grain’s buying process.

PM Shehbaz has also dir­­ected the Pakistan Agri­­c­u­ltural Storage and Services Corporation Limited (Passco) — the national grain procurement and storage agency — to ensure swift buying to help growers.

According to a statem­ent issued by the Prime Minis­ter’s Office (PMO), Mr Sharif gave the direct­ives on Saturday before lea­ving for Saudi Arabia to participate in the World Eco­nomic Forum’s meeting.

The official press rele­ase called the decision “a big relief” for farmers, adding that it was taken following complaints from wheat growers.

“The prime minister has taken the initiative keeping in view the problems confronting the growers regarding the sale of wheat,” it said.

Besides increasing the wheat procurement target, the prime minister also directed Passco to ensure transparency and facilitate the growers on a priority basis.

The delay

A bumper crop output has been projected for this season and wheat threshing has already begun in most parts of Punjab, the largest wheat producing province in the county.

However, farmers complained that Passco was not purchasing wheat and flour mills were “exploiting them” by offering rates lower than the government-mandated support price for their crops.

The Sindh and Baloch­istan governments have set the support price at Rs4,000 per 40kg, while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab governments Rs3,900 per 40kg.

The farmers lament that their production costs have more than doubled in the last one year but they were being forced to sell their produce at the last year’s rates and even lower than that.

The issue also resulted in heated discussions in the National and Punjab Assembly this week.

The National Assembly was told that official procurement has slowed as the caretaker government imported wheat despite having a bumper crop.

National Food Security Minister Rana Tanveer admitted the decision was “wrong”, and the prime minister has already ordered an inquiry into it.

He added that the ministry would write letters to provincial governments to procure maximum wheat from the farmers.

Opposition member Sheikh Waqas Akram warned the government that farmers would be on the streets soon and “the rulers would not be able to face the brunt”.

In the Punjab Assembly, Food Minister Bilal Yasin reasoned that the moisture level in wheat was quite high, up to 18 per cent, because of which his department could not buy the produce as after drying, its weight would reduce, causing a loss to the government.

Punjab Assembly Spe­a­ker Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan also conceded that even though the minimum support price was Rs3,900 per 40kg, the crop was being sold at Rs3,200 in the open market because growers were not sure whether the food department would buy their produce.

Farmers’ protests

The growers have staged protests in several areas and demanded the government increase the support price.

While addressing a press conference earlier this month, the Kisan Board Pakistan president, Sardar Zafar Hussain, urged the government to procure at least five million tonnes of wheat in the current season and raise the support to Rs5,000 per 40kg.

He alleged that the government was “deliberately delaying” the procurement campaign because of which the prices in the open market were declining.

KP govt to buy ‘local’ wheat

In a related development, the provincial food minister, Zahir Shah Toru, announced that the KP government would buy 600,000 tonnes of wheat at the rate of Rs3,900 per 40 kg.

Mr Toru made the announcement on Satur­day during a visit to a wheat godown in Nowsh­era district. The minister was briefed on the wheat procurement process and the measures taken for its safe storage in warehouses.

He said the provincial cabinet has decided to purchase wheat from local farmers at the same rate as the Punjab government.

The decision will not only result in the procurement of quality wheat but yield significant financial benefits to the province’s growers, he said.

Regarding the welfare of KP’s farmers, Mr Toru assured that their interests would be “safeguarded at all costs”.

The minister emphasised his government’s commitment toward transparency, highlighting ongoing efforts to digitise the food department’s administrative affairs to ensure accountability.

He said a five-member committee, comprising officials from the agriculture department, administration and NAB, has been constituted to oversee procurement, transportation and quality control process and prevent malpractice.

Manzoor Ali in Peshawar also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2024

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