LAHORE: Owing to failure of the provincial government in commencing wheat procurement campaign, the helpless growers are being forced to sell their produce at throwaway price to powerful middle-men and flour millers.
The reluctance of the Punjab Food Department somehow gives absolute monopoly to private buyers in wheat trade, leading to free fall of wheat price being offered to farmers. The lack of second buying party in the wheat trade proves a serious blow to farmers as price of new wheat started hitting below Rs1,100 per 40kg mark in southern Punjab against the official support price of Rs1,300.
Wheat harvesting begins this year about two weeks earlier if compared with the past practice because of changing weather pattern but the Punjab Food Department is apparently not prepared to start procurement accordingly.
According to an official deputed at the Food Department’s helpline, wheat procurement campaign will start from April 20 or 21 in the province instead of April 15. He said wheat procurement policy 2017 was revised lately and that was why procurement did not start from April 15. Farmers organisations are furious over the role of provincial food department. The private buyers are not only purchasing wheat at relatively lower prices but are also forcing farmers to give an extra 2-3kg.
Other cuts on account of gunny bag price and transportation cost leave farmers high and dry on the mercy of middlemen and flour millers, said Chaudry Nisar Ahmad, President Kissan Board Pakistan.
Owing to this fiasco, farmers are facing losses of billions of rupees, he observed. Khalid Khokhar, President Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, who hails from Multan, said a bumper crop of wheat is expected this year but we are unable to see any tangible steps being taken by the provincial government for buying from growers. He said it is incomprehensible that formal buying of wheat has been delayed beyond April 20 without any valid reason.
Haji Ramzan of District Kasur expressed dismay over public sector preparations for wheat procurement. He said the procurement centres in the district are located in remote areas while there are lot of complaints about lists prepared for buying wheat. The names of many farmers are not included in the list, that is creating severe problems for them. Ibrahim Mughal of Agri Forum Pakistan alleged that food minister and his team, including officials of food directorate are unfortunately proved most incompetent people we have ever experienced. It seems the provincial government is shying away from the responsibility of buying wheat from farmers. They are knowingly cheating farmers on one pretext or other so far as initiation of procurement is concerned, he observed.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the provincial government has delayed wheat procurement in divisions of central and northern Punjab till April 22 and 24. As per revised procurement policy, which unfortunately has not yet been shared with farmer organisations and media, distribution of gunny bags would start from April 17 (today) in Multan Division while in Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan Divisions, farmers will be given gunny bags from April 18 (tomorrow). On the other hand, it is learnt that wheat production may cross 20 million ton first time in the history of the province.
Representatives of farmers and flour mills industry foresee total production of wheat well over target of 19.5 million ton. Punjab Agriculture Department expects that record of 15 years is likely to break this year by harvesting over 19.5 million ton wheat.