LAHORE: Punjab Food Department has hardly been able to buy 0.646 million tons of wheat till May 10 during procurement drive despite the fact that most of harvesting has already been completed in grain surplus areas of south and central Punjab.
Being a late entrant, the Food Department misses the very basic mark-helping stabilise grain prices for the benefit of farmers in the early phase of drive following early maturity of crop. In the later stage, the opening up of wheat procurement by the provincial government to all sellers, including influential middlemen, adds to farmers woes as whole procurement drive has now reportedly been highjacked by them.
The Food Department staff is not entertaining whatever farmers left for sale of wheat at procurement centres, moaned Rao Afsar Khan, a farmer residing in Rajanpur district. There is no queue and officials are procuring wheat at their sweet will. He alleged that middlemen are given preferential treatment due to reasons best known to the Food Department staff of.
He lamented that most of these middlemen have bought wheat from farmers at throwaway price of Rs 1100 per maund or so against official rate of Rs 1300 and now earning huge profit by selling the same grains to Food Department at the cost of feeble farmers.
Growers also denounced what they called negative role of Food Department, claiming that impediments are being created in selling grain to private buyers. If a farmer gets good price from the private wheat purchasers, he should be given free hand in disposing of his grains, said Ibrahim Mughal, Chairman Agri-Forum Pakistan.
He expressed dismay over handling of wheat operation by the provincial government, saying Food Department is not capable of handling the situation due to chronic administrative issues, inept staff and rampant corruption.
According to official data available with The News, Food Department could only procure 0.646 million tons of wheat till May 10 out of target of 4.0 million tons. The purchased wheat is dismally low and merely 16 percent of procurement target as yet.
The issuance of gunny bags though picked up and stood for 1.928 million tons of wheat till May 10. However, trend of gunny bag issuance was on lower side till May 05. However, later it gained momentum only after policy shift from the Food Department with opening up of procurement for all. In sheer contrast, wheat procurement in neighbouring Indian state of Punjab continued at breakneck pace. Till May 10, 2019, as many as 12 million tons of wheat has been procured in the official procurement campaign. Soon, this drive will be concluded and here it is yet to even pick up the momentum, said sources
An official of Food Department however said that procured wheat this year is better if compared with the trend of previous year’s corresponding period. He added that provincial government would purchase wheat from every farmer who will bring wheat to the procurement centre. Dispelling the impression of seizing grains of private buyers, he said that no vehicle of any Flour Mill has been impounded by the Food Department, Punjab.
Talking about prices of grain, he added that the new crop of wheat is abundantly available everywhere in Punjab in reasonable rate and under the Ramazan package wheat is being provided to flour mills throughout the province.
It may be noted that the provincial cabinet meeting held under the chairmanship of Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar on May 03 decided to open the wheat procurement campaign besides revising previous procedure to facilitate the farmers.
(This news/article originally appeared in The News on May 13th, 2019)