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Tuesday, May 17, 2022
EditorialWheat shortage — food for thought

Wheat shortage — food for thought

In the peak season of wheat harvest, Pakistan, which is one of the largest agricultural countries in the world, is facing a wheat shortage, thanks to multiple factors ranging from the spring heatwave to water shortage and expensive agricultural inputs. The irony is that the country produced surplus crops from 2009 to 2019 and was among the exporters of wheat. In the past decades, Pakistan also exported sugar, rice and cotton, but the government’s neglect and lack of support to farmers struck the agricultural economy and we have become a wheat importing country. This year too, due to the non-availability of fertilizer at reasonable prices and on time, the government is facing problems to meet the procurement target. Moreover, the unprecedented spring heatwave in March harmed the crop, lessening its grain weight and size.

The government has left with a few options to overcome the wheat shortage. It awoke to the crisis last Friday when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called a high-level meeting to discuss the wheat production in the country, existing reserves and consumption at the provincial and national levels. The prime minister also directed the top officials to increase the wheat procurement target from the set target of 28.89 million metric tons to 30.79 million metric tons. The existing situation at procurement centres presents a sorry state as the expected procurement is 26.173 million, whereas the consumption of wheat at the national level is estimated at 30.79 million metric tons.

The government needs to take serious measures to meet the target of staple food. Some issues hitting the crops are known: reduction in wheat cultivation area due to over-cultivation of sugarcane, water shortage, fertilizer crisis and smuggling of the yield to Afghanistan. The government could have overcome the cultivation area shortage by announcing the wheat support price well on time but it announced the price in March. By that time, the wheat cultivation area had declined by two per cent. Besides climate change, rising oil prices have also been major hurdles in achieving the wheat target. So far, Punjab has achieved the target by 91.66 per cent, Sindh by 49.29 per cent, Balochistan by 15.29 per cent while Pasco has achieved the target by 100 per cent. The other day, the prime minister, while addressing a rally in Shangla, asked the KP government to decrease flour prices or he will sell his wardrobe to compensate for the losses. The real issue, however, is that the KP government is facing a shortfall of wheat due to the ban on the inter-provincial wheat movement. A huge chunk of wheat is wasted due to poor storage sites, and in this regard, the government needs to develop a strategy for the construction of silos for wheat storage. Pakistan, despite being an agricultural country, has been committing mismanagement and negligence with its farming community. Now, the government should take remedial actions, and pursue positive policies announced by the previous governments. As the shortfall of wheat is imminent, the government should import wheat on time, if required. It is expected that the four provincial governments will play their part in rescuing the country from the wheat crisis by cooperating fully in the implementation of the decisions of the federal government. However, for the restoration of agriculture in the country, it is imperative to formulate a permanent and comprehensive policy in consultation with experts.

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