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Sunday October 02, 2022

Additional 800,000 tonne wheat to be imported to curb shortage

Pakistan is already in talks with Russia over importing wheat

By Our Correspondent
September 02, 2022
Labourers load sacks of wheat flour at a market in Karachi on January 20, 2020. -AFP
Labourers load sacks of wheat flour at a market in Karachi on January 20, 2020. -AFP

KARACHI:The government has allowed traders to import 800,000 tonnes of wheat to curb shortage after devastating floods ruined crops and disrupted supplies across the country, finance minister said on Thursday.

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said that wheat stocks were washed away with floods at many places, "but the country would not face a wheat crisis as the government has recently imported a million tonnes of wheat and the additional 800,000 tonne would help meet the demand".

“So far, there is food available. There is some shortage of onions and tomatoes, and the government is taking off the duties from the imports of those things. Yes, the stored wheat did wash away. Luckily, we have imported a million tonnes of wheat just recently, and yesterday we allowed private sector and gave them tax incentives to import another 800,000 tonnes of wheat,” Ismail said in an interview to BBC.

Ismail said sowing next year’s wheat crop, which starts in October, will be another challenge. Pakistan is already in talks with Russia over importing wheat, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said last month in parliament. Even before the floods, the country was facing a wheat shortage of about 2.6 million tons.

“It’s difficult and challenging because we need to plant wheat from October onwards in Sindh and November onwards in Punjab. We need to have dried ground before we do that.”

Regarding cotton, he said the country has lost about 28 to 30 percent of cotton crop, “not all of it.”

“We lost all the cotton crops in Sindh, but Punjab and elsewhere the cotton is safe. We do import a little bit of cotton from other countries, Uzbekistan in particular and the United States and Egypt. We will import and feed out textiles to make yarn and clothing.”

Ismail informed that about 20 percent of Sindh’s sugarcane crop has been destroyed, a little bit in KP, and overall around 10 percent of country’s total sugarcane crops have been destroyed.

“Luckily, we have excess production of sugar this year, so we are okay with sugar this year, probably next year also. However, it is going to be a significant loss to the farmers and if the price goes up, it would also be a significant issue to the mill owners.”

Talking of the unprecedented floods, he said the magnitude of the crisis is very huge and the government can’t really adequately help the people as much as they need, but different tiers of the government were helping people out, he informed.

“The central government is disbursing cash of Rs25,000 to each women head of a household and that we are going to distribute among 4.2 million women across the flood affected areas.”

In, addition ration packet food, tents, and mosquito nets are being provided by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) along with the provincial disaster management authorities. The provincial governments are also distributing food rations, medicines, mobile health clinics, etc, he notified.

Ismail shared that the government has a plan to compensate for the crops destroyed, also those farmers who have taken loans from the agriculture bank and unable to pay the loans back.

“We’ll ask the bank to delay receiving payments. For some of the farmers, we’ll have to give some bridge loans to the banks in the meantime.”

The finance minister said another challenge for the government was to drain out the water so that the farmers, even if they were late by two weeks or so, become able to plant their wheat. In case they were not able to do that on time, and there would be a very significant issue, he feared.

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