Flour shortage: Supply improves but quality goes down

Artificial shortage blamed on hoarding, selling in K-P for higher profit.


Waqas Naeem January 22, 2013
Punjab government set the retail price of a 20kg bag of flour at Rs670 two weeks ago, after increasing both the retail price and the ex-mill rate for 20kg of flour by Rs30. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:


The shortage of flour which plagued Rawalpindi over the past 10 days might have subsided, but residents are still paying above the government rate for good quality flour.


The Punjab government set the retail price of a 20kg bag of flour at Rs670 two weeks ago, after increasing both the retail price and the ex-mill rate for 20kg of flour by Rs30. The ex-mill rate was increased to Rs648 from Rs618.

But the quality of flour being sold at this rate is not a hit with the consumers.

“The Rs670 flour is so bad it is not worth cooking or eating,” said Saima Saifullah, a housewife from Rawalpindi’s Banni area.  “It forces us to buy more expensive flour.”

Saifullah said the brand of flour she buys for her household costs Rs200 per 5kg — about Rs130 more for a 20-kg bag compared to the government’s price.

In Dhoke Khaba, Muhammad Nazeer said there is no shortage of flour after the “mill owners apparently reached an agreement with the government”.

The shortage was caused by several factors, including millers worried about the hike in wheat support prices, flour-hoarding shopkeepers and increased wheat supply to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa because of higher flour prices there.

The shortage, which made it difficult for Rawalpindi residents to find flour in the city markets, also led to a spike in flour prices.



Nazeer, who runs a general store, admitted the basic flour quality is somewhat compromised as the supply normalises.

“The mill owners add more bran than required to the 20kg bag,” he said. “That degrades the quality of the flour.”

Bran, otherwise an important source of fibre, is the coarse outer coat of wheat that is removed when flour is sieved.

Like Saifullah, many of the city’s residents are buying flour in the Rs800 range — if they can afford it.

Mrs Rafique, another housewife, said the government must do something to bring down the prices of basic commodities.

“Flour prices are important because even the very poor have to buy flour,” Rafique said.

“They might forgo other food items, but they cannot give up bread.”

Recently she bought a 20kg bag of flour for Rs850 after going through the Rs670 varieties at local general stores.

“The cheaper quality flour has little lumps of red flour,” Rafique said. “You cannot cook roti with that.”

The price of naan has also gone up at Rawalpindi’s tandoors. At a tandoor in Rawalpindi’s Dhoke Elahi Bux, Muhammad Tanveer said he was selling a naan for Rs7.

“The price of an 80kg bag of plain flour has gone up to Rs3,200 from Rs2,300,” Tanveer said, justifying the one rupee increase in the price of unleavened bread.

That’s not all. The price of an 80-kg bag of fine flour has increased by around 35 per cent to Rs3,650 from Rs2,700 in the past 10 days, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2013.

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