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Agrarian economy of Pakistan employs a large workforce and considered vital from a social, livelihood and foreign exchange perspective. Agriculture’s share in total GDP in the fiscal year (FY) 2021-22, according to Pakistan Economic Survey (2021-22), was 22.7%. It provided employment to around 37.4% of the labour force, which increased from 65.5 million in FY 2017-18 to 71.76 million in FY2020-21 and the number of employed persons increased from 61.71 million to 67.25 million during the same period.

Our climatic conditions facilitate the production of a wide-ranging variety of crops, fruits, and vegetables. However, the growing population and use of agricultural lands for other purposes (mainly housing societies) are reducing local produce that is insufficient to meet people’s increasing demand; therefore, the federal government is forced to import agricultural products to avoid a food crisis. Administrative shortcomings coupled with challenges related to cultivable areas have fostered a supply chain crisis, rapidly raising the prices of commodities.

This gap between demand and supply further increased due to catastrophic floods in Pakistan in August 2022 that not only adversely affected the country’s infrastructure but also destroyed crops, including wheat, sugarcane, and vegetables causing the risk of food shortage in the country. People who are already struggling to meet basic needs due to the government’s aggressive economic policies are now confronted with inflation that in recent months, has reached historic high levels constricting the common citizen’s income to an unbearable extent.

Essential items are getting beyond the reach of the people. The Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) prepared by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), on weekly basis, measures price fluctuations of essential commodities in the country. SPI’s basket carries 51 essential items collecting data from 50 markets across 17 cities. The recent SPI publication provides some worrisome details and depicts a year-on-year increase of 31.75%; onion increased by 437.21%, chicken by 80.51%, tea by 65.41%, eggs by 61.63%, diesel by 60.63%, wheat flour by 56.11%, pulse moong by 52.97% and rice basmati by 51.05%.

Although after the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010 [commonly called “the 18th Amendment”], the prime responsibility of price management vests with provincial bodies but unless all government functionaries across jurisdictions improve their working coordination with the objective of a stable supply chain and price stability, controlling inflation will always remain a challenge. Recent political fragmentation has further increased the crisis where wheat flour (chakki atta) is now ranging between Rs 140-160 per kilogram which can also be corroborated by recent statistics from PBS.

The provincial governments have been unable to crack down on wheat hoarders and been unable to beef up market supply with available stocks. Though the governments have made efforts to sell bags through dedicated sale points and utility stores, however, people’s reach, especially the poor to these marked places, is limited due to long distances and heavy travelling costs that render the low prices unfeasible/unavailed.

The current wheat flour crisis is multidimensional requiring a combination of short-term, medium-term, and long-term policies. The federal government should develop and update the mechanisms for provincial crops reporting data at the provincial levels so that accurate and relevant information can be available for anticipated consumption to keep a balance between demand and supply.

In the past, we have observed that due to inaccurate data, wrong decisions for export were taken e.g., in the fiscal year 2019-20, which triggered a crisis on the domestic front. Respective provincial governments should timely and positively purchase their required wheat stocks once harvesting is completed. Delays provide opportunities for others to hoard wheat which leads to a crisis of supply and avoidable price hikes.

The federal government must scale up its warehousing capacity to meet future needs. Another important factor is the procurement price that must be reflective of ongoing market dynamics. If not at par with open market price rates, farmers would be encouraged to sell to private buyers. During these processes, governments must periodically monitor the availability of wheat in all sectors and should make informed decisions for import/export or alternate use in the domestic market.

Moving forward, there is a need to increase production of wheat and improve yield per acre by expanding the areas for cultivation and introducing modern techniques/processes for farmers. Statics show that during fiscal year 2020-21, total area for wheat production was around 9,168 (000 ha) whereas total production was around 27,464 (000 tons)—an average of 3 tons per/hectare. Pakistan’s wheat demand after five years i.e., by 2028 is estimated to be 34.50 million tons—hence more per acre yield will help to meet the growing demand.

This can only be possible if the federal and provincial governments in collaboration with non-governmental bodies enable farmers to adopt efficient means by providing them with training, resources and access to modern technologies/processes. Availability of inputs like diesel and electricity at reasonable prices, certified seeds and other accessories besides ensuring realistic prices for the farmers’ produce can also play an important role to avoid future crises.

A Russian delegation is visiting Pakistan to discuss oil and LNG deals along with Russian wheat during the 8th session of the Pakistan Inter-Governmental Commission (ICG). However, at this point, the federal government should ensure equal distribution of already imported wheat to all provinces and flour mills as per their assigned quota.

Moreover, as an immediate measure of relief, the federal government should utilize its social protection program Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) for the provision of subsidized bags of flour. BISP cardholders should be offered essentials at a rescued/affordable rate at their doorsteps to save their cost of commuting and standing in queues. This can help avoid an en masse subsidy program.

Additionally, this mechanism of targeted subsidy has already been vetted and supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The provision of essentials to needy people has already been practically tested by various countries during the Covid-19 endemic.

Unfortunately, both the federal and provincial governments have miserably failed to discharge their prime responsibility of providing affordable living to citizens in an honorable way. No one seems interested in addressing the core issues, rather all energies are directed toward political wrangling, mud-slinging, and making efforts to consolidate power.

(Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikram Haq, lawyers, and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members of the Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) and Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently co-authored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Huzaima Bukhari

The writer is a lawyer and author of many books, and Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of management Sciences (LUMS), member of Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). She can be reached at [email protected]

Dr Ikramul Haq

The writer is a lawyer and author of many books, and Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of management Sciences (LUMS) as well as member of Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). He can be reached at [email protected]

Abdul Rauf Shakoori

The writer is a US-based corporate lawyer, and specialises in white collar crimes and sanctions compliance. He has written several books on corporate and taxation laws of Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]


Comments are closed.

KU Jan 20, 2023 11:41am
It is nothing new, read this information 40 years ago, and repeated every now and then, to date. We the farmers need price assurance for our commodities before the season, rational fertilizer prices, an affordable solar energy system,s and law and order to protect our gains. We use old seed varieties with low yields, and public organizations have failed to perform and deliver the latest seeds variety of various crops, and are useless. We can feed the country and stop relying on food imports worth billions of dollars, but this cannot be realized under the government, give private companies incentives and agriculture will flourish.
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Syed Aqeel Jan 20, 2023 09:49pm
The authors have hinted at increasingly non-agricultural use of land. This aspect needs more serious attention than has been given. There has to be strict monitoring to put a stop to such activities. All district administration heads must ensure that agricultural land is not converted to residential use.
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