Middlemen`s intrusion in wheat
By Ibrahim Lakhiar
May 30, 2011: WHEAT procurement
drive is in full swing in Sindh. A visit to most of the
procurement centres, set up by the government at accessible
locations to facilitate grower, shows that premises are now
abuzz with business activity.
The centres, which wore deserted look and haunted by
domesticated animals, have now burst into life with throngs
of growers visiting them in large number. Crowds, coming and
going in opposite directions, give an impression that some
mini-mela like activity is going on in the area.
While looking at the movement of people of various ages and
social status, one could gather from their facial
expressions that some were effusing exuberance, while most
others gave a pale and blank look. An informal chat with
some of them led one to unfolding of stunning anecdotes.
Those who wore festive faces were lucky enough to get the
consignment of `bardana`. They brought back the stuffed bags
with wheat and received payment at government rate of Rs950
per 40 kg.
Others, who were quite in large number, wore griming faces.
They paraded centre`s premises aimlessly with little or no
hope of getting any consignment of `bardana`. They loitered
on the consolation that the stock had exhausted, while the
next one was in the pipeline.
The federal government has fixed 1.3 million tons of wheat
as procurement target for Sindh. The purpose is to keep a
vigil on price fluctuations in the market. If the prices do
not behave, the province releases the stock in the market to
stabilise wheat price. The stored stock also enables
government to meet unforeseen challenges, thrown by acts of
nature like deluge, drought and earthquakes.
Government`s policy to build buffer stock is audible.
Laudable is also the fixation of wheat price at the
reasonable rate of Rs950 per maund. While fixing the price,
the government takes note of the rising cost of agricultural
inputs needed to cultivate the crop. More laudable is the
firm stand, taken by the government to maintain the wheat
price, despite opposition from urbanites and pressure
But government`s silence over intrusion of the middlemen in
wheat trade is enigmatic and puzzling. No doubt, the entry
of commission agents in wheat trade is not a new phenomenon,
they had been operating with impunity in the past also, but
not at such a huge scale. They have virtually monopolised
the market, ousting the real stakeholders out of arena. The
plunge of the traders, especially in upper Dadu district
with head-long velocity into the otherwise tranquil
business, has vitiated peaceful ambience of the countryside.
The growers, who should be the real beneficiaries of the
government`s largess, are denied `bardana` on one or the
other pretext. But the traders experience no hassle in
getting the same from secret locations during dead of the
night with the proverbial cooperation of the acolytes of the
centre for obvious reasons. It is learnt, even their stuffed
bags are lifted for free from the site and transported
directly in government-arranged vehicles to the
depositories, located in lower Sindh, a facility allowed by
the government but not offered to growers.
Denied gunny bags, the growers, who have
no capacity to stock the produce, are compelled to revert to
commission agents, whose offer price hovers around Rs90 per
40kg short of government rate. If the difference of Rs90 is
worked out, it constitutes a staggering sum of Rs2 billion
plus. This amount, which fills tills of the middlemen,
should have been heard jingling in the poor peasants` and
small land holders` pockets.
This daylight robbery, going on unnoticed under the gaze of
the government, is incomprehensible. Fleecing the farmers
and small land-holders, who invariably live from crop to
crop and hand to mouth and whose entire family including
women and children toil on the land ceaselessly, is
The middlemen, known for minting money on the toil of
others, have upset government`s plans to offer growers
reasonable return for using costly inputs and hard labour to
produce the commodity.
The staff, guarding the godown, also does not lag behind in
slicing off pound of flesh from the corpses of the growers
and accepting from them plastic bags, supplied by the former
and hiding them from detection amidst the mammoth stacks of
bags during nightly hours. Frequent absence of the
authorised staff to sign the sale deal also leads to delay
in payments for days.
Growers, who deserve to be patted on their backs for
bringing out the bumper crop, partly on the assumption that
they would get fair deal, are extremely disappointed and
dejected. Chattering classes among vocal growers are now
abuzz, cogitating switch over to some cash crop in the face
of wheat trade, being held hostage to unscrupulous elements
in the market.
In the inflationary economy, cost of cultivation, like cost
of doing business or manufacturing, goes on exponentially
higher. After meeting input costs, peanuts are left. In case
intrusion of middlemen in the kosher trade is not bridled,
it will push more people to poverty and pauperism.
The government should pull itself together to search for
some solution seriously. A simple suggestion could also be
offered to allow the growers to purchase government-approved
bardana from the market and fetch it for sale to the centre.
Acceptance of the quantity should match the authenticated
land-holdings list, supplied by the revenue department. The
contested claim may be referred to higher authority.
Since government claims to be people-friendly, it will have
to nip the evil in the bud before it raises its ugly head
again during the next crop season.
Courtesy: The DAWN