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Monday July 15, 2024

Wheat: the solution

By Dr Farrukh Saleem
May 05, 2024
A representational image showing farmers harvesting wheat crops in a field. — AFP/File
A representational image showing farmers harvesting wheat crops in a field. — AFP/File

There is a clear, lasting, and simple solution to Pakistan’s Rs300 billion recurring wheat powder keg. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) has no solution. Seventy-six years of paralysis, a living testament. The network of Anti-Corruption Establishments (ACEs) has no solution. Sixty-eight years of atrophy, proof enough? The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has no solution. Forty-nine years of inaction. Is that not proof enough? The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has no solution. Twenty-five years of impotence. Proof enough?

There is a clear, lasting, and simple solution. Another investigation report. Futile endeavour. Repeating the cycle. Frivolous pursuits, for sure. Lifting the veil? The truth does not need unveiling. The elitist of all networks has raked in a cool Rs300 billion. Here’s the repetitive nature of five exposed acts: rich-get-richer scheme; upward redistribution; wealth transfer to the wealthy; plundering of the poor and exploitation of the disadvantaged.

There is a clear, lasting, and simple solution. Here is a partial list of countries that have largely withdrawn government control over wheat prices: Vietnam, Chile, Columbia, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey.

There is a clear, lasting, and simple solution. Here is a partial list of developing countries that have largely abolished central planning: Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Cambodia, Ghana, Guatemala, Angola, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Malawi, Mali, and Mauritania. Even China transitioned from a centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented one in the 1990s.

There is a clear, lasting, and simple solution. The government’s wheat policy has been a trillion rupee disaster (remember the wealth transfer to the wealthy!). Get the government of Pakistan out of the wheat sector. Disband the Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation Ltd (PASSCO). The federal government and provincial food departments have taken out loans of Rs1,309 billion – with nothing to show for them. The government must refrain from fixing the ‘procurement price’ and the ‘issue price’ – in between the two are Rs200 billion worth of ‘incidentals’ and ‘corruption’ (remember the rich-get-richer schemes?). Eliminate all sorts of trade restrictions.

Ah, what a delight it is to live in the past. Layers and layers of bureaucracy, a tangled web our government has deliberately woven: procurement price, big farmer, commodity operations, incidentals, interest payments, gross mismanagement, issue price, miller quotas, wholesalers, retailers and then to consumers.

The Canteen Stores Department (CSD), also known as CSD, has a clear, lasting and simple solution. The CSD with 111 years of history behind it is run by the Ministry of Defence and is the second-largest retail chain in the country. The CSD has an extremely successful open-tender, direct-farmer-to-miller-to-CSD approach.

There is a clear, lasting, and simple solution: exit government, enter efficiency. This clear, lasting, and simple solution will have three consequences: Secure Pakistan’s breadbasket. Lower prices for the consumers. Higher prices for the farmers.


The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets/posts @saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: farrukh15@hotmail.com