WHEAT crisis, which is practically not over yet, may give birth to another big crisis. The government must be looking at the matter seriously as the crisis demands an immediate solution. Mere constitution of committees to probe the issue may not yield any positive outcome.

The most deficit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has announced the intention to procure about 0.3 million tonnes from the farmers at a support price of Rs3,900 per 40kg. The province’s total requirement is about five million tonnes of wheat, and it hardly produced 1.3 million tonnes over an area of about two million acres. This is hardly 27 per cent of the total requirement.

The KP chief minister recently invited farmers from Punjab to bring their produce to KP. The Punjab government may consider allowing private and public sectors to make direct purchases from Punjab farmers, particularly in areas bordering the KP. It is time for all the relevant stakeholders to resolve the matter amicably in the larger national interest.

The government may also ask those who import wheat and have storage capacities to make direct procurements from the farmers in Punjab. The problem in Punjab is that owing to recent imports, the warehouses are filled with a stock of 2.3 million tonnes of wheat, forcing the government to be reluctant in buying wheat from the farmers.

The purchase quota meant for Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) is 1.8 million tonnes which is peanuts in the face of a crop worth about 30 million tonnes. If quick action is not initiated, there are chances that the area of wheat may drop in the next sowing season.

The farmers sell wheat and then make investments in other crops. The kharif crops, such as cotton, rice and maize, will be critical. Despite contributing to the national economy, cotton growers have been the victim of climate change in the last couple of years. The production, which had once crossed the 1.4 million bales mark, has now come down to half that much. In southern Punjab, cotton is the main crop, while central Punjab leans towards the cultivation of rice and maize during the kharif season.

Federal and provincial governments must think clearly and immediately about their steps ahead. The agriculture sector needs visionary decisions urgently.

Ghulam Idris Khan
Ex-Managing Director,
Pakistan Oilseed Development Board,
Islamabad

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2024

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