Managing timely export
By Aftab Ahmad
has become self-sufficient in wheat and is able to export
two million tons of the commodity. But the decision to
export from the existing stock has come at a time when firm
estimates about the size of current crop is yet to be
available and the official procurement drive to gain
momentum. It does not seem to be appropriate.
Some analysts fear that wheat crop might be lower than its
target of 25 million tons and the last crop of 23.5 million
tons, due to drought and shortage of irrigation water.
Others have shown optimism lately, saying that the wheat
crop is going to be a bumper one and may be close to 23-24
The government of Punjab has raised its procurement target
from four million to five million tons. However, according
to some press reports, farmers in Sindh are not satisfied
with the procurement arrangements and they are selling their
produce to private parties against cash payments, even at a
price lower than the procurement price of Rs950 per 40 kg.
Following the government decision to export two million tons
of wheat, buying by the private sector may pick up in coming
weeks, possibly making it difficult for the government to
achieve its procurement target.
If the government’s procurement target is not achieved and
the private sector purchases bulk of the crop, artificial
shortage of wheat accompanied by an increase in wheat/wheat
flour prices may occur.
The latest government decision to export wheat brings to the
mind a similar decision taken a few years ago. The decision,
at that time, was also taken in anticipation of bumper wheat
crop. However, when final estimates were received, the crop
turned out to be of a considerably smaller size.
Accordingly, speculative elements were able to take full
advantage of the situation. They created artificial shortage
of wheat/wheat flour in the open market and sold their
stocks at prohibitive prices.
As per the government’s decision, wheat was exported at a
time when the international wheat prices were at a lower
level. Later, when the government had to import wheat the
same year to meet the shortfall, it had to pay considerably
higher price for the imported wheat, since the international
wheat prices had risen by that time.
While announcing the decision, the prime minister had
observed that the decision would benefit the farmers. What
the PM had actually meant was that because of the export
demand for two million tons, prices of wheat would not
witness decline and wheat growers would continue to receive
a good price for their produce.
It was to achieve the same objective, when the government of
Punjab lately decided to raise its procurement target from
four to five million tons. It is, no doubt a step in the
right direction to protect the interest of growers, so that
they may be able to focus on maximization of production.
However, at the same time, it is the duty of the government
to safeguard the interest of the consumers also. It should,
therefore, be ensured that export of wheat does not result
in shortage and higher prices of wheat/wheat flour. The
physical exports of wheat should not be allowed until the
procurement target has been fully achieved. By that time, a
clearer picture would also emerge about the size of the
wheat crop and the government would be in a better position
to consider as to how its export decision could best be
Over the last one year between April 2009 and April 2010,
availability of wheat/wheat flour had remained satisfactory
and the price of wheat flour also remained stable in the
open market. This was because the government had procured a
higher quantity of wheat and, at the same time, it did not
allow any export of the commodity during the year. Besides,
upward revision of the procurement price of wheat from Rs625
per 40 kg to Rs950 per 40 kg also helped in checking the
smuggling of wheat across the borders. Thus, the item
remained freely available in open market throughout the
year, although at a higher price.
The international wheat prices currently stand at a
considerably lower level. According to online reports, US
and EU wheat prices stand at $197 and $169 per ton,
respectively, while top-grade wheat could attract a price of
$225 a ton. These prices, when converted into local currency
at the exchange rate of Rs85 to a dollar, work out to Rs14
to Rs19 per kg. On the other hand, the local wheat
procurement price stands at Rs950 per 40 kg or Rs24 per kg.
It may, therefore, not be possible to export wheat at
current prices, after buying wheat from the local market at
Rs24 per kg and adding mark-up and transportation charges to
But, world commodity prices have always been subject to
fluctuations. According to online reports, lower wheat
prices at the moment are attributable to higher global
production/expected production from the 2009-10 wheat crop.
Global wheat stocks are, also, expected to hit their highest
level since the 1980’s. However, these lower prices are
likely to prove a disincentive for the wheat growers at the
time of sowing wheat crop, which could result in lower
production from the 2010-11 wheat crop. Thus, there is a
possibility that the international wheat prices could
witness a rising trend once again in 2010-11, after
remaining at a lower level in 2009-10.
For a country like Pakistan – having meager internal and
external resources and a higher poverty level – it is always
advisable to attach the highest priority to food security.
The government should avoid all such policies and actions
that could have an adverse effect on the availability and
stability of food item prices.
Courtesy: The DAWN