Monday, 17 November 2014

Government urged to ensure minimum wheat price at Rs 1,300/40kg

Small growers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, urged the provincial government to ensure minimum wheat price not less than Rs 1,300 per 40 kg to Rs 1,500 per 40 kg, as they said the higher input cost and lower support price will further ruin farmers, working day and night to boost the national economy. Apparently, the farmers contented with the decision of the government, but they complained about previous practices and other owes, especially monopoly of middlemen, matted ever year with them.

The government has recently increased the procurement of wheat price to Rs.1300, an increase of Rs.100 to help and protect the interests of small growers, being received with skepticism. Additionally, a regulatory duty of 20pc has been imposed on wheat imports since the price of the staple food item, which is also one of the country's largest crops, has fallen steeply in global markets since May of this year.

"We highly appreciate the government decision, but how much it could be implemented at province level, which important consideration on part of authorities to ensure them, to end monopoly of middlemen, which were always exploited small farmers interests with support of handpick landowners, says Zahir Khan, Vice president, Chamber of Agriculture (CoA) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He urged the provincial government to increase the support price of wheat or ensure minimum wheat price not less than Rs 1,300 per 40 kg to Rs 1,500 per 40 kg.

KP has a total wheat requirement four million ton, against its production of around 1million, while rest of 3million food commodity is fulfilling from Punjab in shape of flour every year, the official informed. He added the Punjab is fulfilling our 75 per cent requirement of the food commodity. "Farmers in KP now mostly get their crop harvested through labourers. The labourers and farmers share the crop in different ratios. In Peshawar, for example, labourers get 10th of the produce as remuneration. In other areas, they are hired on daily wages ranging between Rs250-300 plus meals and stay.

An official of ministry of agriculture said that small landholdings, poverty and illiteracy of farmers in KP have rendered mechanised harvesting difficult and farmers either reap the crop themselves or hire labourers. But the shortage of trained harvesters is adding to their woes," he said. Mechanical harvesting is faster and reduces post-harvest losses by a great margin, said the official.

Zahir said "Small farmers find it very difficult to access the benefits of the support price since the procurement machinery tends to give red-carpet treatment to large landowners with political clout. If the steps are indeed being taken to help farmers, further reforms should also be pursued in tandem, he stressed.

According to official documents said that the total wheat requirement is 4,294,263 metric tons per annum. After adjustment of local production of 1,158,069 M. Tones, the net requirements is 3,136,194 metric tons. This deficiency is met through open market from the surplus wheat produced by Punjab. The Food Department issues a specific quota to all districts on the basis of population to stabilise prices in the market during the lean period from September to April. An overview of the quantity of wheat released during the last 3 year, from Government go-downs.

Farmers will not grow main cash crops if the authorities fail in providing adequate price to them, Zahir said. He was of the view that the government needed to increase support price of wheat up to Rs 1,500 per 40 kg from Rs 1,200 per 40 kg or eradicate GST over agriculture input and machinery. He warned that farmers may come out on roads to protest for their genuine demands.

Besides the procurement price, critical agricultural inputs such as agri credit and fertiliser distribution are appropriated mainly by the large landowners, Vice president, AG KP added. He maintained reforming the procurement machinery as well as fertiliser distribution to ensure that the state support provided through these is properly targeted is essential.

CoA KP vice president emphasised that crop insurance is virtually non-existent in Pakistan, and it should also be made a priority since it can significantly contribute towards documenting the sector, as well as improving the targeting of agricultural subsidies and support prices.

"If the government is serious about helping farmers, then it should follow up its steps to safeguard farmer incomes with reforms to ensure better targeting of its initiatives. If the next wheat procurement season is again marred by allegations that large landowners have walked off with the lion's share of the benefits of the price increase, it will cast a dark shadow over the government's credibility on such a sensitive issue", he stressed.

It is pertinent to mentioning here that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had missed twice wheat procurement target during last two consecutive years, inclining toward Punjab and Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) to fulfil the requirement of the food commodity in the province.

Last season, due to missing wheat procurement target, the official sources said the provincial kitty incurred Rs.2.5billion by approaching PASSCO by the provincial food department to meet the staple food requirements in the province.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2014

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