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February 24, 2021

Sindh wheat growers at loggerheads with govt over support price

Business

February 24, 2021

HYDERABAD: Farmers believe that wheat prices set by the centre as well as provinces might give leeway to middlemen and traders to exploit growers and create problems for consumers.

Reports gathered from different areas showed that increasing prices of chemical inputs and diesel have impacted the price of cultivation. Wheat producers in Sindh have borne a higher cost of cultivation this year compared to Punjab.

Prices of inputs such as tractors for ploughing, fertiliser, pesticides, and groundwater extraction have multiplied, raising the cost of farming.

Growers in Sindh justify higher support prices based on that, while consumers demand to have their right to access food at reasonable rates. In either case – the price moves up or not – there would be burden on consumers in different categories.

To avoid a crises-like situation that struck the market last year, growers in Sindh demand of the government to design a comprehensive plan for wheat procurement and that too in a timely fashion. They ask to provide bags to avoid crisis, as the harvest has already started in early cultivation areas like parts of Badin, Umerkot, Tharparkar and Mirpurkhas districts.

Sindh Growers Alliance (SGA) President Nawab Zubair Talpur, while talking to The News, recalled last year’s situation, and said the provincial government had failed to set up procurement centres, through which they could have collected food grains to avoid the crisis.

“Presently, the poor workers and common people are compelled to buy wheat flour at Rs70-75/kg (in Sindh), despite the fact that Sindh produces more than four million tons wheat every year, and even exports to neighbouring countries to generate an income,” he added. Both the federal and provincial authorities seem to be on different pages when it comes to a unified price acceptable for consumers and producers alike. Three different prices for purchasing wheat have been set.

Procurement price set by the federal government is Rs1,650/maund; Punjab government has set Rs1,800/maund; while the Sindh government set price at Rs2,000/maund.

These variations leave room for traders to manipulate market, especially in the absence of timely procurement by the government.

Growers also lamented last year’s situation where Sindh government did not establish procurement centres, leaving them at the mercy of traders, who instead of buying wheat at the set price of Rs1,400/maundh, bought the commodity at Rs1,100/maund or even lower.

Further, they pointed to hoarding and other issues that were revealed after an investigation. They urge for action so a similar situation could be avoided this year.

Analysts believe that the consumers do not have choice and might stay vulnerable in terms of unaffordable food products. Looking at last year, they predict a similar pattern to follow, where traders would inflate prices, which would increase the price of wheat flour too.

Following the previous experience, the price set as Rs2,000/maund at harvest, is expected to increase the price of flour to Rs100/kg after April and May. If the government does not realise this, poor consumers would face hardships in buying flour.

Researchers believe that when the same food is available at Rs40/kg in Punjab, despite the same cost of chemical input or overall cultivation, Sindh growers were being indifferent to common consumers.

Quoting reports, researchers said that factors responsible for wheat crisis were not just economic, but rather political.

They held corruption and hoarding responsible for the crisis.

Farmers have also expressed their fears regarding government action against landlords who were using forest land for cultivation. To retrieve forest land, government has been using tractors to destroy standing wheat crop.

Growers warn this could cause long-term repercussions on wheat supply, which would further affect the price of flour.

They asked the government to save the crop through natural mechanisms instead of destroying it in fields in the name of retrieving forest land.

Planners in Pakistan need to come up with an agriculture policy to tackle the cost of inputs, as well as the burden on the national exchequer when it comes to importing important produce like wheat flour, sugar, and cotton.

Other issues that need government attention were water availability at the right time. Farmers in some areas have observed that they received water late, ie after the annual rotation period, which harmed the crop at maturing stage.

Similarly, wheat crop that was sowed late has experienced heat in February, which they believe might also affect overall yield of the staple grain in the country.