LAHORE: Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province by population, has failed to reach its wheat purchase target in the procurement drive this season.
Though the province revised its wheat buying target to 3.81 million tons from 4 million tons, it managed to purchase only 3.62 million tons this year against 3.95 million tons in previous year, according to official statistics.
Traditionally, the province sets the annual purchase target at 4 million tons of wheat against total production of around 19 million tons in the province. On average, Pakistan’s total wheat harvest stands at around 25 million tons annually.
The reason behind the lower-than-expected wheat purchase by the provincial government is a new mechanism established for releasing gunny bags to farmers. This year, the government invited applications from the growers for the release of gunny bags, but many farmers missed the deadline.
Earlier on April 3, 2018, former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif approved the official wheat procurement plan, targeting to buy 4 million tons from the farmers. Wheat was to be purchased for Rs1,300 per maund (40 kg).
The provincial government had previously stated that direct provision of gunny bags to the farmers was an important step which would eliminate the role of middlemen. This initiative would help in distribution of wheat bags through a transparent and merit-based system, it said. However, the initiative resulted in lower-than-expected purchase of the crop by the province.
Officials of the food department said a late start of the procurement drive was another reason for missing the target.
“Normally, we initiate wheat purchase in the first week of April, however, this year we started in the third week, forcing many farmers to sell their crop in open market and that too at lower prices,” said an official of the Punjab Food Department.
Finding it difficult to reach the desired target, the food department had curtailed the official purchase target to 3.81 million tons, but could manage to buy only 3.62 million tons of wheat – a staple crop of the province as well as the entire country.
“The main reason has been the change in policy,” the official said. “Many farmers did not know that the procurement policy had been revised. They did not get prior information about submitting applications for selling wheat to the food department. That was why many of them could not sell wheat to the department.”
In major wheat-growing districts of Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Multan, Lahore and Gujranwala, the farmers specifically took a hit because of lack of knowledge about filing an application within stipulated time. Purchase targets for some of these districts were missed by a wide margin.
In Rahim Yar Khan, the wheat harvest was completed about two weeks early due to an abnormal rise in temperature. Owing to mismanagement in procurement arrangements and late arrival of the crop in market, the food department could manage to buy only half of the district’s target, leaving farmers high and dry.
The start and pace of buying were slow, especially when compared with the crop harvest which was completed about a fortnight ago in almost the entire province. It is alleged that mostly middlemen have got benefits of the procurement drive due to loopholes.