Wheat Procurement to end by mid-June

By Ahmad Fraz Khan (Dawn)

LAHORE, June 1: The Punjab government may formally end procurement drive by midJune, as daily wheat arrival at its centres have dropped to 8,000 ton and its earlier planned deadline of May 31 has passed.

The farmers, however, still claim to have substantial wheat, which no one is ready to buy – not even the food department, which has gone into a different mode; passive buying with squeeze becoming tighter by the day.

The departmental officials say with weather forecast for June being highly wet and windy, it has become all the more important to “preserve the wheat” that is already with it, and it is huge stock – worth Rs150 billion so far.

“The department has to arrange massive fumigation, huge quantity of tarpaulin and storage to preserve its stocks,” says an official of the department. Naturally, its focus has shifted to stocks handling. The procurement drive is dying fast enough to need a formal stoppage and that is what one should look forward to, he says.

The outside stocks need four to six layers of tarpaulin to be declared save, he says. “The department is short of around 2,000 tarpaulins and hopes to get them in next four days. That means preservation process would be in full swing. It has finalised preservation plan, keeping in view monsoon pattern. In central Punjab, outside stock will have six layers and four in southern Punjab.” The departmental stocks have reached 5.72 million tons, and at the current rate of arrival might fall between 5.8 million tons to 5.85 million tons, says another official.

The original deadline to stop procurement was May 31, but the department did not due to “still, though, sporadic pouring in of wheat.” With arrival dipping to a paltry 8,000 tons, the department is thinking of moving a formal summary to end the drive, he says.

The farmers, nevertheless, hold exactly opposite view to wheat arrival and blame the food officials of “distorting the entire picture for justifying end to procurement drive.” They claim that substantial quantity of wheat is still available in the market but department is squeezing purchase on the one hand, and using the squeezed figures as a rationale to end the drive on the other.

“Had the department been half innovative at purchasing wheat than it is now at topping the same, most of farmers’ problems could have been solved,” says Muhammad Farooq of the Farmers Associates Pakistan (FAP).

The department is now erecting one wall after another to deny farmers’ access to its centres. It first made the verification process stringent enough for farmers to cross it. Now, it has put up facilitations centres, which facilitate the department to keep wheat out, rather than helping farmers bringing it in, he adds.

The day is not far off when the department will call it a day after “manufacturing statistical reality out of its own figures,” he says. But, by then, still there will be many proverbial “last grains” to be bought, he claims. “After all, where the millers are still getting wheat from if the entire crop is procured,” he adds.

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