Government evaluating wheat import proposal: official
The federal government is evaluating wheat import proposal anticipating a concerning situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh with respect to flour availability at reasonable prices. This was disclosed by Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Dr Hashim Popalzai while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security & Research on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by Senator Najma Hameed, Senator Seemee Ezdi, Senator Gul Bashra, Senator Professor Sajid Mir, Senator Hafiz Abdul Karim and senior officers from the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO), Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC), Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL). Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Sahibzada Muhammad Mehboob Sultan was also present.
Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Punjab government is releasing wheat to the mills at Rs 1,375 with Bardana and the flour price is Rs 1650 per 40 kgs. However, the price of Atta (flour) in KP and Sindh was between Rs 1,850 to 1,950 per 40 kgs which is 18 percent dearer than Punjab. He argued that the main reason for the crisis in Sindh was the provincial government’s failure to procure wheat officially, first time in history. The province was to procure 1.4 million tons. KP government also did not procure wheat as per the agreed target.
Keeping in view the demand from provinces, federal government has approved 0.15 million tons of wheat for Sindh and 0.1 million tons for KP, with the direction that first the two provincial governments should release wheat from their godowns then federal government would match quantity from their own wheat reserves (Passco).
“We are waiting for Sindh government’s response about release of 0.15 million tons of wheat,” he said, adding that the government fears a wheat crisis in KP due to Azadi March. The federal government planned to supply wheat to KP from Passcos’ godowns in Muzaffargarh (South Punjab) from where supply can easily reach Dera Ismail Khan.
“We have also started work on wheat import option if crisis deepens as presently we have sufficient stocks for three months. The proposal will be placed before the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet,” he maintained.
According to Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research Punjab has imposed a ban on movement of wheat from Punjab to KP, which is creating the crisis.
“We have also called an inter-provincial meeting on (Thursday) to find a way out to restore wheat movement to KP,” he maintained. The current wheat stock is around 6.5 millions which can cater for the requirements of provinces. Senator Hafiz Abdul Karim expressed concern over not procuring required quantity of wheat, which according to him is the main reason for the increase in wheat/flour prices adding that during last four months prices increased by Rs 300 per 40 kgs.
However, Minister for National Food Security and Research, Mehboob Sultan clarified that the provincial government usually procures agreed stock of wheat every year but this year Sindh did not procure the wheat.
Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research said that federal government has asked provinces to streamline their monitoring system.
“What the federal government can do is that it can allocate wheat to provinces, but first provinces have to release wheat from their stocks, then federal government will supplement it,” he maintained.
The main reason for reduction in stocks was destruction of commodity due to heavy rains. Punjab’s production is on average 19.5 million tons whereas total production is 26 million tons but this year wheat production in Punjab was 18.2 million tons which is 1.2 millions tons lower than last year.
Standing committee chairman said that wheat sowing has begun but the government has yet to fix minimum support price, urging officials of Ministry of National Food Security and Research to announce the support price.
Secretary said that the Ministry of National Food Security and Research has already held a meeting with provinces. He said input prices have increased and minimum price is static for the last four years, which needs to be revised.
Secretary further stated that urea price was over Rs 2,000 per bag this year as compared to Rs 1,400 per bag last year. The price of DAP was Rs 3,500 per bag which is linked with dollar-rupee parity.
“We had recommended subsidy of Rs 500 per bag for DAP but the government didn’t approve it due to financial constraints,” he continued.
Member Sindh, Irsa, Syed Mazhar Ali Shah informed the committee that Irsa has calculated 15 per cent water shortfall in Rabi for Sindh and Punjab but inflows are higher than expected due to which supply will be more than expected in November (next month).