Once an exporter of wheat, Pakistan has been importing the commodity — the staple food of the people — quite regularly in recent years. Till March of the ongoing fiscal year, 3.6 million tonnes of wheat have already been imported and now the government has announced the import of another one million tonnes to ensure the availability of wheat and wheat flour in the market. The import of four million tonnes of the commodity will cost the exchequer a huge sum of $1.2 billion. This shows a whopping amount of money is being spent on feeding the ever-increasing population.
The other reasons that necessitate the import of the basic commodity are low minimum support price for it, cultivation of low-yielding seeds as a result of the lack of proper agricultural research, the absence of incentives, mismanagement, and corruption. Knowledgeable circles claim that sometimes wheat, wheat flour, sugar and other essential commodities are smuggled out to other countries as there they fetch high prices. This brings profit bonanzas for the smugglers and large ‘incomes’ to government officials who connive at the illicit trade. The end consumers suffer.
The new finance minister, Shaukat Tarin, has taken the right decision to import more wheat to meet the country’s requirements. This shows he is well aware of the simple rule of economics — that prices will automatically come down if the supply of sufficient quantities of essential commodities is ensured in the market.
For the current fiscal year, the government has increased the wheat support price by 23%, and has also given subsidies on fertiliser and electricity. However, it needs to focus more on obtaining high-yielding varieties of seed and elimination of corruption. If we have to be self-reliant in food and save the precious foreign exchange on imports, it is necessary to abolish outmoded agricultural practices. The population explosion also needs to be controlled. Our current population growth rate is 2.04%, higher than Bangladesh’s 0.98%. The minister says prices of food items are being exaggeratingly reported. This, however, does not alter the fact: Saray jahan say manhga…
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2021.
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