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April 7, 2019

Farmers forced to sell wheat at throwaway prices as govt indecisive on procurement


April 7, 2019

LAHORE: Farmers are being forced to sell wheat crop at throwaway prices as the government is dragging feet on procurement of the staple food that has been ripened earlier this season due to dry weather and rising temperature, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

Dry weather and rising temperature led to early maturity of wheat in Southern Punjab and farmers have no choice but to sell their produce to private buyers as provincial food department is merely acting as a silent spectator.

Farmer Rao Afsar, belonging to Rajanpur district said wheat harvesting started around a week back. “We are selling wheat at around Rs1,150 / maund against the official support price of Rs1,300,” Afsar said. “We have no choice but to sell wheat to private buyers as the food department has done nothing so far for this year’s procurement drive.”

The farmer further said wheat grains turned golden in a short span due to steep rise in temperature, leaving a little room for farmers to delay harvesting.

Wheat harvesting has already kicked in several districts of the southern Punjab, including Bahawalnagar, Multan, and Rajanpur.

“It is feared that grains would start arriving in the market in bulk quantities if weather remains the same, multiplying problems for growers,” an agriculture expert said. “The Punjab Food Department is actually not decisive as far as starting of wheat procurement is concerned.”

Though the provincial chief minister earlier announced wheat buying from April 21, the food department in a message directed district administration and officials of the food directorate to start procurement from the last week of April. Ironically, the provincial department didn’t mention any date in a relevant print media advertisement.

The provincial food department directed deputy commissioners to start arrangements for wheat procurement campaign from 8 April. Registration of farmers would continue till third week of April, according to an official letter. Applications for bardana or gunny bags would be received between 8 and 17 April. Distribution of gunny bags would start from 22 April.

An estimate showed that private sector would end up procuring two million tons of wheat in the province this year. The provincial food department, on the other hand, planned to buy as much as four million tons of wheat with bank loans of Rs130 billion under the procurement drive 2019.

The experts said farmers would be at total loss as price would certainly crash in the absence of a major public sector’s buyer on time.

The government fixed wheat production target at 25.572 million tons during winter 2018/19. Of that, Punjab is expected to produce 19.5 million tons, Sindh (3.8mt), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (1.36mt) and Balochistan (0.9mt).

Farmers also want to dispose produces as early as possible, fearing natural calamity in the form of high winds, hailstorm or rainy spells that would cause huge losses to standing crops.

Another farmer from Bahawalnagar Saifullah, who wanted to be quoted with single name, said reaping of wheat has began in the district for the last several days and about 2,000 tons of grains have already arrived in the market. “Farmers are hardly fetching Rs1,150 to Rs1,200 from the private sector,” he added.

Saifullah demanded of the government to direct the food department to immediately launch the procurement drive.

“Otherwise, wheat price would crash as hot temperature has led to maturity of crop at large scale.”

Wheat harvesting season is not less than a celebration for the farmers and that also creates temporary livelihood opportunities for labourers. “Delay in harvesting entails delayed income for them too.”

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