Punjab hoarders exploiting wheat farmers

Mafia buying crop from growers at cheap rates


Rizwan Asif April 21, 2024
PHOTO: FILE

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LAHORE:

Wheat is being purchased from Punjab’s farmers at cheap prices and stored in secret warehouses by the “mafia of hoarders”, sources told The Express Tribune on Friday.

The mafia has stepped in to take advantage of the ongoing tussle between the farmer as well as political circles and the bureaucrats on the issue of government’s procurement of wheat in the province.

After a few months, the wheat bought at cheap prices will be sold to flour mills at high rates.

In the last two years, flour has become expensive because of the mafia of hoarders.

According to market sources, presently a farmer is receiving about Rs3200 to Rs3300 for around 40 kilogrammes of wheat.

The “middlemen” are selling this wheat to flour mills for Rs3500 to Rs3600.

The people of Punjab are deprived of complete relief despite the Rs600 reduction in the ex-mill rate of 20-kg bag of flour.

On each 20-kg bag of flour, retailers are making a profit of Rs200 to Rs300.

The ex-mill price of a 20-kg bag of flour in Lahore is Rs2,000 to Rs2,100.

Federal National Food Security Minister Rana Tanveer had recently sent a letter to the chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to speed up the government procurement of wheat keeping in mind the sensitivity of the crop, production, storage, smuggling and different types of weather in the provinces.

Tanveer, who is also the federal minister for industries and production, had also asked the chief ministers to review their wheat procurement targets and ensure that the crop was purchased from the farmers on time.

He had added that the provincial governments should take appropriate and necessary measures to meet their wheat procurement targets.

The minister had stressed the need for purchasing wheat from farmers at the rates fixed by the Centre.

Last week, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet approved about Rs275 billion cash credit limit for wheat operations of smaller stakeholders to ensure the procurement of 2.45 million tonnes in the public sector.

This, however, did not include the largest producer and stakeholder, Punjab, which last year purchased 4.5 million tonnes alone -- almost more than double the procurement by all other participants.

This time around, the province neither committed to any procurement target nor sought a cash credit limit.

Punjab declined to seek a credit limit, stressing that it would intervene when it found reasonable evidence about the farmers being fleeced and come to their assistance for official stocks at the approved wheat support price.

The Punjab government informed the committee that it was closely monitoring the wheat situation in the province and initiated the procurement process.

It further informed the meeting that the provincial government would continue to intervene to make sure that the farmers were able to sell their produce at the support price level.

Amid Punjab’s reluctance to commit to any wheat procurement target, the farmers in the province face an uncertain situation about their produce but in an effort to mitigate their concerns, Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz assured them that her government was “working on various options” to ensure that they were not affected by “compensating through other means”.

The Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) demanded that the Punjab government should ensure timely and maximum purchase of wheat from the farmers.

In a statement, PKI Provincial Coordinator Amjad Ali said the farmers were frustrated as there was nobody to buy wheat in the market.

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