It was not long ago when Pakistan exported cotton and wheat, but for the past several years it has been importing these two commodities. Evidently, mismanagement and corruption account for this sad state of affairs. Informed quarters claim that our own produce is smuggled out to countries where wheat fetches better prices. At a recent meeting, attended by high officials of the relevant departments, the Senate Standing Committee on Commerce expressed concern over the paradoxical situation and asked the ministry of food security to explain how the wheat-exporting country has turned into an importer of the staple food.
The panel was informed that this year wheat production was estimated to be 26.04 million tons – over one million tons more than the previous year – but the demand was for 29 million tons. The shortfall would be met by imports. Besides, 1.2 million tons would be required for seed and one million tons as strategic reserves. It is unclear whether the seed requirement will be met from the domestic output, or imported wheat would be used for the purpose. The government must not allow genetically-modified varieties of wheat, cotton or any other agricultural commodities into the country because GM produce cannot be used as seed; seeds for GM crops have to be bought from multi-national seed companies.
The ministry of food has warned that the difference between the wheat procurement price in Sindh and the rest of the country might open the door to profiteering. The procurement price in Sindh is Rs2,000 per 40kg while in other provinces it is Rs1,800 per 40kg. This might lure farmers to sell their produce in Sindh. The ultimate sufferers would be the consumers and small farmers. It emerged at the meeting that authorities rejected a proposal for fixing the minimum support price of cotton. Agricultural prices need to be handled deftly. Growers should be assured of good returns on their produce if we have to be self-reliant in food and avoid costly imports.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2021.
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