ISLAMABAD: The government while denouncing the rumours regarding a wheat shortage crisis has said that the country was expecting a bumper wheat crop during 2023 owing to favourable weather conditions and grower-friendly policies.
Addressing a press conference here on Wednesday, Federal Minister for National Food Security Tariq Bashir Cheema while responding to a question regarding a reduction in area under wheat cultivation acknowledged that owing to devastating floods wheat cultivation area in Sindh somehow has reduced but it will not have a negative impact on the overall productivity.
He said that the government has allowed the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) to export sugar but as yet the association has failed to export even one kilogramme of the commodity as global sugar prices are in decline. He said that the government has asked the sugar industry over Rs90 ex-mill price would not be allowed.
He said that last year wheat support price was fixed at Rs2,200 per 40kg and this year it was proposed to fix at Rs3,000 per 40kg, adding that the governments of Punjab, Balochistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa suggested fixing the support price at Rs3,000 per 40kg. However, Sindh has fixed the support price at Rs4,000 per 40kg.
The minister said despite the economic restraints and post-flood challenges, we have achieved 91 percent of the wheat sowing target. He said wheat sowing has been completed on 21 million acres across the country.
He said that negotiations with the Sindh government were in progress to harmonise the support price of wheat across the country to equally benefit all the stakeholders, including farmers and consumers as well as curbing the illegal movement of the grains.
Cheema said that the import bill of oil seed is expected to be $6 billion this year. He said that the provinces should promote oil seed cultivation to reduce the burden on the exchequer. He said that there are enough strategic reserves to meet the demand of Afghanistan. He said that smuggling will not be allowed and if any country requires wheat, then it should approach the government.
The minister further said that efforts were being made to reduce the reliance on imported food commodities, and enhance the local output of food commodities, including that of wheat and oil seeds as edible oil imports swelled to $4.5 billion during last year and wheat imports to $2 billion.
The minister said that the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) was procuring only 20 percent of the national wheat produce which is being supplied to the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan, and the military. He said the private sector and provincial governments are procuring the remaining 80 percent, stressing the need for streamlining the price differential to maintain prices.
He said that a strategy was being devised for stabilising flour prices to ensure the provision of flour at affordable rates to the residents of the Federal Capital, saying the reason for the flour price hike in the markets of Islamabad was the inadequate supply of wheat from Punjab. “Per day flour consumption of Islamabad is 38,000 bags. The Punjab government is only providing 21,700 bags per day, resulting in a shortfall of about 1,700 bags per day,” Cheema added.
“The shortfall is being fulfilled by purchasing the commodity from the open market, due to which we faced price fluctuation,” he said, adding “the government has also established about 38 sale points to provide wheat flour to the lower income groups.” He said that a smooth supply of wheat and flour at affordable price was the responsibility of provincial governments, adding that the needs of federal capital were also fulfilled by the supply of wheat from Punjab.
He said that the government was also inspecting the grinding capacity of flour mills in order to compel them to operate at their optimal capacity to meet local needs, saying that mills were not operating at their full capacity which has created flour shortage. He stressed that the provincial governments should take action against them.
The minister said that the federal government has even provided imported wheat to the provinces but the provincial governments are not releasing stocks as a result commodity prices are going up. Cheema said that there is no shortage of wheat in any province. “Provinces have sufficient stocks, but they are not releasing them,” he added. “We imported wheat to provide to provinces. We will meet the demand of provinces if they approach us,” he said.
Talking about the hike in chicken prices, he said that the importers of soyabean were pressurizing the government to allow the release of ships carrying soyabean claiming it was the basic food for the poultry industry but the government has not allowed the release of the ships as a result, they are increasing the chicken and egg prices to pressurise the government.
The government is not going to issue import permit and facilitate the import of soyabean meals, which the poultry industry is claiming is the major need of the industry to meet feed requirement, he said and added rules do not allow the import of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products. He further said that GMO soyabean is cancerous and his government has no desire to import cancer as GMO is harmful to health. “Before 2015, GMO soyabean was not part of poultry feed and there are alternatives available,” he added.
He said that after the 18th Amendment, prices of essential items are controlled by the provincial governments. He stressed that provincial governments should take responsibility and take measures to ensure food security of essential items and control prices.
He emphasized that after the NFC award, provincial governments have the financial resources. “If they can enhance their procurement targets, then they should,” he said.
“Federal Government has spent billions of rupees through Benazir Income Support Programme for rehabilitation and resettlement of flood-affected families despite financial constraints,” he said.
Cheema made it clear that there was no shortage of wheat in the country, and sufficient reserves were available to meet domestic consumption. “Strategic reserves are also being maintained to cope with any emergency situation.” He said that to fulfil the requirements of Islamabad, a proposal was submitted for approval to allocate wheat quota to the federal capital in the PASSCO’s stock and it was expected to get approved within the next few days.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023