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KARACHI: Pakistan Businesses Forum (PBF) vice president Ahmad Jawad has expressed fear that the flour rates are about to jacking up further; government should intervene in the market by releasing stocks to control market sentiment regarding upside of wheat prices.

He said almost 10 months had been passed since last season’s crop and market had started to dry. He claimed that wheat was quoted between Rs 2,550 and Rs 2,650 per maund in Punjab and also in some areas of Sindh too by the stockists.

Similarly Punjab Agriculture Department informed the wheat review committee of the GOP that the province would not be able to achieve its revised sowing target of 16.7 million acres due to the increasing price of fertilisers. Jawad said government functionaries are terming the shortage of urea a mere propaganda.

Our repeated pleas to keep agriculture out of politics fell on deaf ears. Now everyone is seeing the disastrous results,” he added.

He viewed the artificial shortage of fertilisers in the different districts will affect the per acre yield of wheat in the ongoing season. Pakistan’s coming wheat crop is under threat, as the farmers are facing acute shortage of urea since the start of the sowing season. Despite the government’s claims, the farmers are still paying Rs 2,500 to Rs 2,700 for 50kg bags against the officially fixed rate of Rs 1,768.

However, the government claims surplus availability of the commodity but the growers fear the persistent shortages will also hit the sugarcane and maize crops which they termed a bad omen for the sugar and poultry sectors.

Despite the federal government has upped the target from 27.3 million tonnes of last year to 30mt for this season. But the federal authorities could not ensure the availability of both di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and urea fertilisers though the Agriculture Department’s flagged the issue well in time, in the month of September.

Farmers were the ultimate sufferers of the government’s mismanagement. “Yes, there are multiple causes of supply and demand gap. People are even accusing farmers of panic buying. It could be true to some extent, as the majority of smallholders do not have enough money to do that. They stand in queues for hours just to get a couple of bags of urea after verifying themselves as farmers. Yes, the middleman could afford to purchase additional quantities for more profit in the days to come,” Jawad said.

Keeping the growers in queues for hours just to give them important input was a big injustice. Such practice could pose local and internal security challenges.

PBF VP further claims that the Pakistani Sona Urea brand had been smuggled to even Central Asian states for the past many years for its quality and low price. This year its smuggling increased manifold, while some local middlemen also hoarded the compost to earn some extra bucks by selling it in the black market.

He says the country was in surplus as far as the urea compost is concerned and refers to a recent plea of the urea manufacturers seeking permission of the federal government for export of the surplus commodity. The government’s reaction only makes matters worse.

The ministers are found justifying higher prices by comparing it with international prices. The worst part of the whole situation is that it was predictable, thus preventable. The government had ample warning and time before the crisis started worsening. Punjab rang alarm bells as early as September 15 last year.

In the last two years, the country has had record production of wheat, maize and rice crop and the government repeatedly claimed credit for bumper crops. This higher yield could only have two drivers: either an increase in area or per acre yield. Per acre yield, as recorded in the case of wheat, came with additional application of fertiliser — adding to demand.

“I think there will be a shortage of wheat,” he warned. Now, the fears are that the next season may not be any different, as most of the wheat watchers are worried about the crop for multiple reasons. Though it is too early to predict the crop size with a measure of certainty, they calculate the final figure at around 25m tonnes. Citing multiple problems that afflict the crop, they think that the crop is bound to suffer; how much only time will tell. The deficit would naturally be met through imports.

On the other hand farmers were under debt due to an increase in the cost of diesel, electricity and the overall inflation. Many of them could not even apply phosphorus fertiliser; he added.

It may also add here the production of wheat, Pakistan’s is expected to rise in future with Sino-Pak cooperation according to China’s Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences (YAAS).

Yunnan and Pakistan have similarities in climate, wheat variety characteristics, cultivation conditions, meanwhile confronted with shared challenges including stripe rust, drought, high temperature, etc. Therefore, both wheat varieties and technologies can be directly applied to each other.

YAAS will further consolidate the joint research of wheat breeding especially resistance breeding such as disease resistance, insect resistance, drought resistance and lodging resistance, high-yield breeding, and multi-functional breeding. KATI welcomes PM decision to reject OGRA Summary of increase in petrol price.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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