Wheat crop at risk as fertilizer prices soar amid shortage

December 05, 2023

LAHORE: Farmers are struggling to get urea fertilizer at official prices as dealers and middlemen hoard stocks and sell them at inflated rates, threatening the output of the country’s key wheat crop, farmer groups said on Monday.

The price of a 50-kilogram bag of urea has surged by as much as 47 percent in the past week to Rs5,000, while the official rate is Rs3,410-to Rs 3,750, according to farmer groups. Farmers said the government has failed to ensure adequate availability and distribution of the fertilizer, which is essential for the early stages of wheat growth.

This representational image shows wheat. — Unsplash/File

They said the urea fertilizer prices across the country have increased enormously in a week while manufacturers claimed that they have not made any price revision lately. In the last one week alone, a 50 kg sack of urea has become expensive up to Rs1,590 against the official price amid its high demand in the month of December for application during the early stages of wheat crop.

The lack of proper application of urea means lesser production of the strategic wheat crop, which is a food staple for most of the population of the country. The Punjab Agriculture Extension Wing has notified prices of the urea but it is not being followed in the provinces, claimed farmers. As per notification, some of the dealers of different brands of fertilizers may have resorted to malpractices like hoarding and selling at prices higher than the price fixed by the manufacturers. Hence, it has become necessary and expedient to make an order for maintaining supplies of fertilizer for securing equitable distribution and availability thereof at notified prices in the public interest.

Despite tall claims made by provincial Agriculture Department and district authorities, peasants complained that there was a price hike and non-availability of urea at many places in the province at the peak demand period. Urea worth Rs3,410 per bag is being sold to farmers at Rs4,700 to RS 4,800, said Rao Afsar Ali, a farmer hailing from Rajanpur District. He cautioned that wheat production could get affected due to less use of the chemical fertilizer.

Kissan Board Pakistan (KBP) also echoed similar concerns. Sardar Zafar Hussain Khan, President KBP warned that wheat output could be badly hit due to hoarding, scarcity, and costly fertilizer. With the collusion of the government and local authorities, he alleged, black-marketing by the fertilizer mafia has been rampant. Farmers are being robbed by charging arbitrary prices and creating an artificial shortage.

When complaining to the local administration, the local officers do not listen to the problems of growers, he claimed and adding the local administration has been held hostage by the fertilizer mafia. Due to high prices and scarcity of fertilizers, the production of wheat in the current season could be cut by fifty percent, he warned.

KBP leader demanded of the Supreme Court to take notice of the price hike of fertilizer. Farmers will be left with no option but to protest if the looting of the fertilizer mafia is not stopped, he added.

Khalid Khokhar said farmers of South Punjab were especially hard hit by the shortage and price hike of fertilizer and lower selling rates of their produce. A farmer has to sell cotton at a throwaway price of Rs6,000 per 40 kg, compared to the official price of Rs 8,500, and maize at Rs1,500 per 40kg against last year's price of Rs 3500-4000 but there is no relief on input cost, which is ascending day by day, said Khalid Khokhar, President Pakistan Kissan Ittehad. He lamented that farmers could not get urea fertilizer at the notified price anywhere in the province.

Wheat sowing has almost been completed in the country. Now farmers need urea for applying with the first watering. However, he added, its availability at official prices has become a thorny issue for farmers. Urea at Rs5,000 per bag and DAP at Rs14,000 is simply not sustainable for the agriculture sector.