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May 6, 2021

Wheat procurement drive yet to pick up momentum

LAHORE: Wheat procurement drive in the Punjab province has yet to pick up full momentum and it will be difficult for the provincial food department to achieve maximum buying target of 4.5 million tons, analysts said on Wednesday.

Punjab Food Department bought 2.659 million tons grains in the province till May 4, which is 76 percent of 3.5 million tons minimum target set under the wheat procurement campaign 2021/22. However, the food department will have to go for achieving maximum procurement target of 4.5 million tons given the fact that this volume of wheat is needed to meet eight-month demands of grain from September 2021 to April 2022.

According to official figures, 83.2 percent harvesting of wheat has been completed till May 3, while 65 percent threshing has been done as against 70 percent harvesting and 42 percent threshing in 2019-20.

Punjab produces a record wheat of up to 22 million tons this year. However, real challenge is to convert it an opportunity for food department by having sufficient grains for most part of the year, analysts said.

Owing to bulk of early sowing wheat, harvesting has reached to advance stage much early this year. Plus, size of crop is far better and resultantly wheat is available in the market in greater quantities.

Although the provincial food department has distributed so far 98 percent of gunny bags among farmers for sale of wheat, daily flow of wheat could not cross 200,000 tons. It seems that department has already witnessed peak of daily flows which hovers around 150,000 tons, according to analysts.

If this trend continues, it will be difficult for the department to achieve maximum wheat procurement target of 4.5 million tons, they said. The department can continue wheat procurement till mid-June if flow of wheat from farm-gate continues steadily.

Sensing the emerging scenario, the provincial food department has now focused on conducting raids for confiscating what it called hoarded wheat. However, sources said, department should ask growers for lifting their wheat from farm-gate instead of seizing it in raids. Grower would willingly sell wheat if department picks it from their premises. It would not be a burden on the department as it is already using transportation for lifting confiscated grains.

A proactive approach is also needed as many farmers of the province, especially in central and north Punjab don't want to sell wheat right now due to right or wrong indications of high prices in couple of months. They are storing grains while hoping to sell it at over Rs2,000 per maund later.

This is a dangerous trend and needs to be tackled as soon as possible with a view to procuring required quantity of wheat. This worrying trend is also manifestation of the trust deficit among the farmers about government policies.

In order to sufficiently procure wheat during ongoing season, the food directorate needs to be proactive in reaching out to genuine farmers by offering logistic support. Growers should be given an option to call at a central helpline for getting answers about various options of selling grains to the food department.

Food directorate should give option to farmers for lifting wheat from his premises. This wheat should be lifted by staff of food department through private transport and expenditure be paid from farmer head. Instead of paying transportation charges to farmers, this amount should be utilised by department itself for the same purpose. These arrangements can be introduced in two to three districts initially and after successful launching can be extended to other areas.