Govern every crop as if it were maize, and every commodity as if it were poultry. Yet, government policies are bent on doing the opposite, the root of which stems from its desire to fix prices and manage supply and demand.
The current regime has displayed a thriving penchant for controlling prices through administrative measures probably not seen since the abolition of quota and ration system in the country. Last week, the finance minister was heard proudly commenting to the press that the government will also build strategic reserves of pulses and edible oil, to regulate the prices of these (mostly) imported goods. As wisecracks on social media quipped, prices have been fixed for just about every essential item, except for maybe contrabands. News reports suggest that price controls may also be imposed on poultry products and its feed, adding to the long list of kitchen essential items that are already regulated by the government, except may be haldi and dhania powders.
To many, the administration’s obsession with price control seems to be the obvious populist response to the rising prices of food items it has had to battle with – a consequence of massive currency depreciation, increase in power and energy tariffs, and low productivity. It is correct that the party-in-power has been uniquely unlucky, especially considering that it must also face up to surging international commodity prices in the aftermath of post-covid global economic recovery. But the tone and tenor adopted by many in the administration raises suspicion that the root cause pre-dates the ongoing inflationary cycle and may have much to do with the regime’s tendency to see red wherever it sees profit.
But first a recap. What started as a slogan during election campaign to punish “corrupt politicians” quickly turned into disciplining slippery businessowners. Afterall, if past politicians demanded bribes, there must also be hands that doled it out. All hell finally broke lose with the onset of sugar and wheat price spirals. It has been a slippery slope since. Leadership now sees “mafias” everywhere. But that was bound to happen, especially when “behind every fortune is a crime” becomes the state’s motto.
While the poultry industry may be aghast at the prospect of district and provincial governments imposing price ceilings on its inputs and outputs, it must remember that it is not alone in this predicament. Private sector businesses need to step up and address the cause, not the symptom. Various industries are spending millions during the pre-budget cycle on tacky sponsored campaigns getting endorsements from nearly everyone from sports to fashion celebrities, explaining why taxation on only their special product categories is unfair. Instead, private sector may have far more to gain if it were to present a united front to the administration, and persuade it to give up the obsession with price controls. If anything, the PM is at least a willing listener.
Maize crop and poultry products are lone stars in Pakistan’s agricultural scene that is otherwise blighted with low productivity. Their common fault? Little to no government intervention. The tremendous productivity gains achieved in the poultry value chain during the past decade have made inexpensive protein available to an otherwise malnourished economy and society. Learn from it, don’t punish it.