Archive for August, 2011

Food insecurity: a growing problem

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Fatima Syed

 

 

IN SPITE of the significant progress Pakistan has made in food production over the last 60 years, the majority of the population still faces uncertainty in food security on a daily basis.

Over one third of the population suffers from chronic hunger; A significant proportion of the undernourished population has reached a peak of 36 per cent, With 95,000 just children. 48.6 per cent of Pakistan’s 165 million people are deemed to be “food insecure”, the figure being much higher in the conflict-ridden Fata (67.7 per cent) and Balochistan (61.2 per cent) — placing Pakistan at NO-11 on the index of food stressed countries, which indicates, “extreme risk”.

As a concept, food security is said to exist when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their basic dietary needs. It is a complex phenomenon that is attributable to a range of factors that vary across regions: availability, accessibility, and affordability, all three factors in which Pakistan seems to be lagging in at present, to become a food secured nation.

The problem of availability of food in Pakistan is mainly due to difficulties in production and productivity of its agriculture industry. The country has been on a good track of development, but since 2003 the food insecurity has deteriorated due to natural calamities, global food price increases, militancy, and loss of land to residential and industrial development.

Further impediments such as inadequate water supplies, nutrient-deficient cultivable land, outdated farming methods and absence of crop rotation, added to the limitations in the general supply of food available to the local population.

Given the supply constraints the question is, whether or not Pakistan can attain self-sufficiency in its supply of food?

After all, the failure on agriculture supply is unpardonable, mainly because the country is blessed with all the natural assets needed to ensure food for all — land, water and weather. And yet it faces “extreme food risk”.

The issue, however, is not simply that Pakistan is going to have food shortage, as sufficient production is possible with the right management and planning, but the real issue is affordability. Of food.

With food inflation up by 18 per cent in the last financial year, many people find it difficult to have access to food because of their lowering purchasing power.

Across Pakistan, the majority of the hard-earned monthly incomes are spent mainly on food  Purchases. Approximately 50 per cent of total consumption is food-based as compared to the 17 per cent in the US. .

Unfortunately, the food security issue is not exclusively a matter of the availability, accessibility and affordability of agriculture. At the core of all the issues associated with fuelling Pakistan’s backbone industry lies in the absence of efficient management and well-planned policies.

The need to better agriculture production and productivity through the creation of a crop insurance system, a reservoir irrigation system, technology-based cultivation methods and strong fertilisers, to name a few solutions, can only be done with proper policy and efficiency.

The government takes decisions in the name of consumers but in fact, l it is the ruling elite, with their vested financial interests and large acres of land, and the traders who benefit as a result of  distorted food distribution system.

Pakistan is one of the top producers of milk, rice and wheat, but the combination of low productivity, low preference and deep politicisation keep the population starved. In the immediate future, the situation may get desperate, but in the long-run, when available resources are  adequately utilised and consistent policies adopted, it may be changed for better.

But until such management is achieved, perhaps one should shed light on article 38(d) of the Constitution of Pakistan, which ensures that “The state shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food… for all citizens”.

Perhaps it is high time the state wakes up to its responsibility in order to avoid the impending disaster.

 

 

Big sack-o-wheat program

Post Source: blog.dawn.com

By Michael Kugelman

 

“[Federal food and agriculture minister] Nazar Muhammad Gondal said that last year the growers were given slogan of ‘Grow more wheat’ while this year they have been given the slogan of ‘Produce more wheat.’”

—Associated Press of Pakistan, 2009

“WAPDA Chairman Shakeel Durrani. said five dams [and] three mega-canals were being implemented on fast-track basis under Vision 2025.” —Daily Times, 2009

“Increasing the quantum of water and food is pointless so long as they continue to be squandered by poor resource management.” —Michael Kugelman, Dawn, 2011

Southern Punjab: The Ministry of Food and Agriculture unveiled a major new initiative today along the banks of the Sutlej River. Known as the Benazir Bhutto Big Sack of Wheat Support Program (BBBSWSP), it vows to bring food security to tens of thousands of hungry Pakistanis.

The program involves the depositing of an enormous sack of wheat — estimated at several kilometers long and high — atop the Sutlej for public consumption. According to a ministry official who briefed the media onsite, the sack provides “a ready-made and ample source of food for our needy masses.”

As he spoke, several employees of a wealthy local landowner, all sporting “It’s futile not to be feudal” T-shirts, shoved him aside, sprinted over to the sack, sliced open a gaping hole, emptied several tons of wheat into three large burlap bags, and made off with their cache of grains.

Additionally, the official continued, because the sack’s position blocks the flow of the Sutlej, the resulting dam generates water storage. “With the BBBSWSP’s simultaneous creation of food and water resources,” he explained, “we demonstrate the true essence of integrated resource management.”

His last few words were drowned out by the anguished cries of some smallholders downstream, who had just discovered that their modest plots now lay underwater.

Ministry officials shepherded reporters around the project site, taking care not to collide with foreign contractors and local NGO workers hastily preparing for the holding of a training seminar entitled “Building Capacity for Getting Wheat Out of the Sack and Achieving Food Security Bliss.” Once closer to the sack, it became apparent that wheat was pouring out of the freshly carved hole. Meanwhile, the lower perimeter of the sack was waterlogged, its contents completely soaked through.

Droves of people began arriving, and a pattern soon emerged. A small group of grain-seekers, most of them charges of local sugar barons and textile owners, brandished sturdy ladders and large axes. They ascended to the top of the sack, far above water level, and methodically extracted high-quality grains. Meanwhile, down below, masses of people struggled to penetrate the increasingly wet sack; some gave up without accessing any of its contents, while the lucky ones managed to snare a few bushels of wet wheat.

“There is no problem here,” the ministry official said in response to a reporter’s question about people’s struggles to secure wheat. “Leakage and access issues are inevitable. That is why we have produced such a large sack, to ensure that there will be enough supply after all the inefficiencies. The BBBSWSP builds inefficiency considerations into its project development plans.”

Several hours later, the entire sack was either waterlogged or hemorrhaging wheat into the Sutlej. The new dam had morphed into a reservoir of wet wheat, and, thanks to the wind whipping up along the river bank, into a final resting place for dozens of “Food Security Bliss” publicity flyers.

Suddenly a loud noise erupted from the Food Security Bliss training site. A black SUV, driven by an NGO worker serving as the seminar instructor, had pulled into the facility. However, in its haste to swerve around a group of mobile phone-clutching USAID agriculture experts trying in vain to receive their marching orders from Washington, the vehicle slammed into the wheat sack, tearing open another big hole and discharging yet more wheat into the river.

The ministry media briefer exploded in rage. “Why must the foreign donors entrust their resources to the NGOs? If only they worked more through us, we would not have these problems.”

He sighed and removed some flecks of waterlogged wheat from his mustache. “The next sack will be even bigger,” he promised.

Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at michael.kugelman@wilsoncenter.org

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Reduced production, black marketing creates urea shortage

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

 

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD: Less production of urea by manufacturing plants coupled with black-marketing has put the agriculture sector at risk, particularly the cotton crop as inadequate supply of fertilizer could harm the overall crop output, an agriculture official said.

“Cotton growers crucially require urea fertilizers these days as crop is passing through ball formation stage and inadequate supply of fertilizer will harm the output,” Cotton Development Commissioner, Khalid Abdullah said.

He said that the availability of urea fertilizer in Punjab province was a major hurdle towards ensuring required crop productivity adding that cost of input has jacked up as the fertilizers are being sold in black market at much higher rates as compared to its actual price.

“The agriculture input is being sold on higher prices by the black marketers in Punjab as the local manufacturers have reduced fertilizer production,” he alleged.

The commissioner said that import order of urea put by the government was due by July end but it delayed till mid August, resulting in aggravating the overall fertilizer situation.

He said that had the consignment reached on its due date, the situation would have been different. Abdullah, who has recently assumed the charge of his duties in the Ministry of Textile Industry after devolution process, is mandated to promote and develop linkages between growers, ginning mills, industry and international agencies.

On the other hand, Abdullah said that about 15 million bales of cotton production is expected during the year 2011-12 as the crop outlook is satisfactory and there has been no outbreak of any disease and pest attack from the field formations so far.

He said, the price of cotton in international market has witnessed a declining trend as the buyers have not yet started purchasing the commodity. He further informed that all the issues of giners were amicably resolved by addressing their concerns and simplifying the procedures of withholding tax.

Cotton Commissioner said that light rains are beneficial for the cotton crop, but water should not remain stagnant in the field more than 24 hours, that could harm the crop.

Wheat, rice prices rise

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

 

 

ACTIVE trading was witnessed on the Karachi wholesale commodities markets last week as prices of some essential items were quoted higher followed by reports of short supply owing to fall in arrivals from upcountry trading centres.

But prices of major export commodities, mainly rice varieties, were firmly held around previous levels despite reports of pressure on ready supplies as the stocks of old crop had either exhausted or bulk of them exported.

Market sources said arrival of new crop from Sindh was awaited by local dealers but it was believed that prices might slightly go up as the crop was reported to be short owing to irrigation water problems.

The notable feature of the week was sharp rise in wheat prices, which had been under selling pressure since its export was suspended owing to falling prices globally, they said.

Apart from active mill buying, the other factor which caused price flare-up was report of holding back of stocks by dealers in upcountry markets, they said.

The net increase in prices of wheat over the week after weeks of dull trading was of the order of Rs55-100 per bag and dealers said fresh rise might be on the cards.

Among other essentials, pulses, mainly imported one, were also traded higher under the lead of masoor dal and gram whole and dal.

Wheat: Active trading was witnessed in this sector as both the local flour mills and private sector exporters came in for modest covering purchases followed by reports of fresh export demand and covered positions at the decline.

On the other hand sugar was modestly traded and its prices increased at the retail levels despite official assurances that the stock position was comfortable to cope with the increasing demand.

Gur and desi sugar, however, came in for active support and were quoted firm on previous levels followed by reports of short supply.

Pulses: Activity in this sector was normal as the supply position was comfortable thanks to steady imports during the post-budget weeks. Prices were quoted lower for want of demand.

Barring widely used gram whose price was fairly active was quoted further higher. Other types were mostly traded at previous levels followed by reports of fall in their demand from upcountry dealers.

Rice: Stocks of the previous crop were on the lower side as bulk had already been exported. However, astray shipments were being made by exporters who had built-up stocks to meet their export commitments before arrival of the new crop.

Prices of IRRI and basmati varieties came in for active support by brokers and were quoted higher by Rs150 per bag of 100 kg. Rice has been sown in major areas of Sindh and Punjab but report being received was of short crop owing to short supply of water mainly at the tail-end.

Cereals: Among cereals maize led the list of losers and fell by Rs25-50, while bajra and jowar consolidated previous gains.

However, barley came in for active support by some exporters and stayed. Slow arrivals from upcountry markets were another aiding positive factor. The net rise was of the order of Rs50.

Oilseeds: The oilseed sector, on the other hand, showed quietly steady trend as prices of major seeds, including cottonseed and til, were firm and held at previous levels as supply was comfortable.

Castor seed was an exception on reports of higher export demand and was quoted higher by Rs25.

Cotton: After ruling stable early in the week, cotton prices were quoted higher. Later in the week they remained unchanged at Rs6,200 per maund. Arrival of new crop has started in ginneries in a big way but prices of both phutti and lint were said to be on the lower side.

Oilcakes: Prices of cottonseeds were again quoted higher as the new crop arrivals were said to be on the lower side and pressure on supplies caused price flare-up. Rapeseed cakes were held around previous levels.—M.A.

AGRICULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY: Agribusiness skewed

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Asif Maqbool and Adnan Adeel

 

 

 

AS economies industrialise, the relative importance of farm production declines and that of processing and distribution increases, with a marked shift towards agribusiness.

The policy stance of many developing countries tilts in favour of agribusiness from a more specific focus on agriculture while a large section of the population still depends on agriculture for its livelihood.

Agribusiness firms reportedly try to manipulate demand-supply for their benefit. Agribusiness firms, because of their capital and clout, influence formulation of trade rules and procedures.

The root of the problem is that large and influential corporate houses, whose main motive is generating profits and not feeding people, run the current agriculture business. Over the past decades, fewer and fewer firms have been controlling more and more of the global food market. Three or four firms control most of the international trade of each product, both on the export and import sides.

The agriculture market today is characterised by both horizontal and vertical concentrations which give the agribusiness firms a lot of power to influence prices, both paid to producers as well as charged from consumers. Vertical integration helps firms control not just one aspect of food production but the entire process. This entails not just selling seeds, fertiliser and pesticides but also the purchase of crops from producers, their processing, and onward sale to retailers.

Other problems in the agribusiness include:

• Loss of bargaining power: Farmers are inherently disadvantaged in the market due to their large numbers compared with fewer processors. They therefore lose out on price. Concentrated market is an important reason for the erosion of farm income. Agribusiness pulls profits of farmers downstream and increases the profits of agribusiness firms.

• Farmers lose flexibility in enterprise choice. Bound to a crop or livestock enterprise by a contract, farmers cannot adjust their production mix so as to benefit from opportunities; hence there is loss of income for family farms.

• Agriculture dumping: Agriculture dumping is a process in which one agricultural company in a country exports its product to another country at a price lower than the cost of production. This is done so that they are able to drive down prices to be paid to farmers.

• Agriculture dumping creates an unfair trading advantage for exporting agribusiness firms by depressing international prices and narrowing or even eliminating market opportunities for producers in other countries.

• Increase of corporate influence over public policy: These firms have an incredible amount of influence over agricultural policy decisions.

• Environment erosion: There is a lot of soil and water contamination due to increased dependence on pesticides and other chemicals, soil erosion due to production of only one crop, and loss of biodiversity.

Developing countries have been witnessing changes in lifestyle and spending. With increased urbanisation there is increased dependence of food retailers and manufacturers on specialised procurement channels and dedicated wholesalers have set new standards for food quality and safety.

Food is increasingly being sold to formal sector retail outlets such as supermarkets, rather than grown for sale at local markets. Private sector participation in developing countries is being intensively promoted to allow accelerated technology transfer, capital inflow and an assured market for crop production.

Changes in agri-food systems have significant implications for growth, poverty and food security. On the positive side, agribusiness is responding to strong consumer demand for high-value commodities, processed products and pre-prepared foods. At the same time, expanding markets offer farmers opportunities for new value-addition, compared with primary production, while exporters and agro-processing enterprises furnish crucial inputs and services to the farm sector.

However, on the negative side, rapid development could displace small farmers, processors, stores and traders who depend on traditional marketing and distribution channels at a pace that does not allow them enough time to create alternative opportunities.

Small-scale farmers, who are faced with increasingly strict agro-industry standards, face all the risks. So also do small-scale traders, processors, wholesale markets and retailers who are forced to compete with large goods suppliers and manufacturers. Less intervention by the State and increased concentration of corporate entities lessen competition and the fair market framework for trade in agriculture.

Global corporations now control one-third of the world’s productive assets and three-quarters of all world trade.

Agribusiness firms have matured steadily over the last several decades, with the result that small processors and small agricultural producers have become a shrinking part of the landscape. The increased consolidation of agribusiness firms in the food industry has led to a more imperfect market.

Farmers are at a disadvantage because they are numerous, while processors are few. They turn up as price-takers with invariably no bargaining power. Firms wielding immense market power squeeze farmers from both sides. The market power of retailers, processors and grain companies dominates the agri-food chain and takes a larger and increasing portion of the producer’s surplus, making windfall gains. They win both ways — when prices fall as well as when they peak.

On the other hand, farmers always bear the brunt, losing out during times of bumper production as well as low yields.

The following methods could be used to regulate the unfair practices of agribusiness firms:

• Introduce fairness in trade: All transactions should be done in a fair and transparent manner wherein farmers are made aware of the prevailing market price and receive a fair margin of the market share.

• Strengthen cooperatives: Most developing countries have a large number of small farms and a collective mechanism of marketing and delivery of input through the cooperative movement. This goes a long way in providing a congenial
atmosphere and mitigating the risks of marketing.

• Public scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions: Most cartels exist on account of lack of effective regulation mechanisms and an absence of competition policies.

• Strict auditing of food and trade flows: On account of lopsided trade rules and a restricted State intervention in the marketplace, the role of transnational and multinational corporations is set to increase in the production and trade of food articles in developing countries. To regulate speculation, cartelisation and malpractice, strict auditing of food balances and trade flows needs to be carried out. Only such strong action will help check speculation as well as exploitation of natural resources.

The increasing expansion and control of big business in agriculture and food systems have given rise to increasing concern, even alarm, about the adverse impact on livelihoods of farmers, labour markets in general and women workers in particular, sustainable production of food, quality of food, health and nutrition, environment and welfare of other forms of life.

Agribusiness should be carefully analysed and monitored for its impact on sustainable rural livelihoods to bring about necessary correction.

Spiralling urea prices

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Afshan Subohi

 

 

Khalid Subhani, CEO, Engro Fertilisers said, “We need to understand that there exists a massive shortage of fertiliser which has built pressure on price.It is highly unfair. Some of it is mismanagement.” - File photo

 

The growing urban disenchantment with the ruling PPP government might be niggling. The spiralling fertiliser prices may hurt the party that depends on the rural and semi-urban vote bank.

The low application of costly fertiliser by an average grower may depress the country’s crop performance. Falling farm productivity/production could threaten food security and may starve the domestic industry (already operating much below its capacity) fed on agricultural raw materials. It dashes hopes of an early economic recovery.

The latest Pakistan Economic Survey states: “Given the enormous price inducement the agriculture sector is likely to spearhead the economic growth”.

“The high fertiliser prices have a potential to undo farmers’ gains from commodity price hike over the past three years. If the government falters, the size of all major crops could be much smaller than expected”, commented an analyst.

The fertiliser prices have persistently been rising since the democratic government took over in 2008. However, the trend has become more pronounced over the past one year. A bag of urea priced Rs800 in May 2010 now sells at Rs1800 or more, at the retail level. The controlled price of a bag is Rs1300. Five years back the same bag was available for less than Rs300. The trend is the same in other varieties.

The stakeholders are stuck to their position. Growers demand easy availability of the key farm input at affordable rates. A frustrated bureaucrat-turned-grower from Sindh rejected the impression that the PPP cares for the farmers or the rural economy. “If PPP cares for the rural community it must restore gas supply to fertiliser industry and monitor the market to bring the urea bag rate back to Rs1000”, he said.

Punjab growers sounded angry. They blamed the “fertiliser cartel” for playing with the market, having neutralised the government by using its financial prowess. “If the fertiliser companies are getting a rough deal, how have they managed to do so well? Pick up the balance sheet of any of three listed giants who share over 70 per cent of urea market amongst themselves, (Fauji 49, Engro 16, Dawood Company seven per cent in 2010), their rising profits and growing size would belie their claims of being wronged by the government”, Khawaja Shoaib of Farmers Vision Forum commented from Multan.

Khalid Subhani, CEO, Engro Fertilisers said that the growers anxiety is understandable but the industry is also losing out in the current scenario of gas curtailment as fertiliser plants are not operating at their full capacity. Besides repeated closures owing to gas supply suspension push up operating costs and escalate risks in continuous process plants handling hazardous material and gases. He felt the lack of awareness and communication on the issue results in fertiliser industry being labeled as a culprit.

“We need to understand that there exists a massive shortage of fertiliser which has built pressure on price. If one urea bag priced by the company at Rs1378 (after Rs20 per bag for the dealer), should be available to the customer at Rs1398 while it is selling at Rs1800. It is highly unfair. Some of it is mismanagement. Yes, we support the government’s efforts to enforce a fair price”, Subhani said.

“We, however, understand that a solution would be to improve the fertiliser supply. That could be done either by increasing imports or hiking domestic production. For imports, the government will need to spend more on expensive fertiliser, rather than spare resources to foot the subsidy bill to let the commodity be available at affordable prices”, he explained.

“If the cash-strapped government cannot afford that option, the other choice is to use the cushion of 20 per cent idle capacity in domestic fertiliser industry by restoring consistent gas supply to fertiliser plants”, he concluded.

A grower from Multan felt that the assemblies are dominated by absentee landlords who lease out their land and become indifferent to the cost of farm inputs and the price of the output. This explains their apathy towards pressing agricultural issues. The traders attribute the price hike to market forces, implying that it is a natural outcome of high demand and low supply. Experts and analysts found the explanation too simplistic. Many blamed hoarders and black marketers for the
fertiliser crisis.

“I can name names but risks are prohibitive. All I can tell is that a nexus of producers, traders, provincial and federal officials of the relevant ministries collude to manipulate the market to their advantage. They do not care for the people or the country or distinguish between fair and foul. All they care for is the accumulation of wealth”, a source in agri input business in Punjab said.

Some industry sources made a case for fertiliser to be the most deserving sector of gas for its comparative advantage.

They called for adoption of a fair and transparent formula that distributes gas to all sectors based on their economic value.

Many attempts to contact the key player Fauji and some others like Pak Arab, Fatima Fertiliser, did not succeed. The government, on its part, did take notice of the fertiliser issue. Keeping the constraints on gas supply in view, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet in May 2011 directed the TCP to import fertiliser to ease the supply of the commodity and stabilise prices. The Federal Commerce Secretary, Zafar Mehmud when contacted said: “TCP is importing fertiliser to bridge the demand supply gap.” He did not want to say anything more on the subject.

“The situation should improve in the days ahead as the first fertiliser ship is unloading at Karachi Port and the next is on its way. Yes, we are aware of problems being faced by the fertiliser industry and trying to resolve it”, Aziz Ahmed Brohi, federal secretary industries told Dawn over telephone. “The industry is in the private sector; what can we do if prices start scaling up? We cannot fix prices in a market economy”, he added.

“A sector that survives on government guarantees and subsidised raw material has to behave. The law dictates that it needs to consult the government before announcing increase in unit price. The fact is that the industry is taking advantage of a weak

government paralysed by private interests pulling it into different directions”, said an expert.

Khalid Mirza, ex-chairman Competition Commission felt criticism against the fertiliser industry is misplaced. “If an industry is doing well we must not necessarily see it with suspicion. The trend of profit in the fertiliser industry is in sync with the global trend. Why punish a sector for succeeding?”

“I do not believe in direct public intervention in the market. May be, the government should allow private fertiliser companies to import gas directly to suit their needs now that gas has become scarce”, he commented offhand.

Holistic policy for competing crops

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

 

Three years ago, support price of wheat was increased by 46 per cent in one go. Three years down the line, the planners are seized with the bad effects on cropping pattern. - File photo

 

WITH only a week to go to complete 64 years of independence, Pakistan has yet to develop a holistic agriculture policy.

Two examples make the point of such faulty planning clear. Take the case of wheat. Three years ago, support price of wheat was increased by 46 per cent in one go. Three years down the line, the planners are seized with the bad effects on cropping pattern. Wheat area has grossly eaten into acreage of all pulses, especially masoor.

The pulses issue, created by wheat and worsened by last year’s floods, is now raising the import bill. The federal government was forced to convene a special meeting on the issue last week for assessing the damage and take remedial measures.

Same is the case with the biggest cash crop cotton. The focus on cotton for the huge economic role it plays in Pakistan’s economy blinded the official planners of effects that it would have on other competing crops. In the same streak, the government allowed mushrooming of early sowing cotton varieties. The result is that sunflower has almost disappeared from, what is commonly known as, golden triangle — Multan, Muzaffarghar and Bahwalpur.

This is evident from the ever-increasing edible oil bill. The equation would become further skewed once cotton prices fall — the slide has, in fact, already begun — and textile exports have started earning less.

It is not to suggest that official planners should not take new initiatives, but only to propose that they must do two basic things – take institutional input on such initiatives to develop a holistic agriculture picture and keep the initiative within the natural endowments of the country. There is a long list of initiatives that failed because they flew in the face of national ecological realities. These plans, tried to create ‘new strengths’ in Pakistan’s agriculture instead of building on the existing ones. Almost permanent initiative for tea and olive plantation are two such examples.

Instead of learning from such experiences, Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) has been abolished, without assigning the task to any federal body or provinces.

Pakistan produces only one-third of its edible oil requirements. Now it has abolished the only agency looking after even that meager 30 per cent production.

The reason for abolition is the rush of blood created by political momentum of the 18th Amendment. No one certainly found time to consider the future of edible oil production and cost of failure to do so. Otherwise, a succeeding system could have been developed. Once the oil import bill hits the roof, the planners would rush not only to restore the board under a new name but also launch few more money-guzzling schemes to wipe out the effects.

The wheat crop has gobbled over 1.3 million additional acres in Punjab alone ever since support price was increased. What kind of additional high-value crops could have been sown on these acres and what benefits they would have brought to the country?

No one has calculated so far at the national level. How the exceptionally high domestic price of wheat made the exports non-viable for the next two and massive food circular debt not only created cash scarcity in the country, but also cost the governments over Rs100 billion for servicing those debts.

The cost-benefit ratio must accompany new initiatives or support price regime.

Similarly, the possibility of early varieties of cotton eating into sunflower could have seen earlier, and the crop could have been shifted to other areas along the River Indus. Experts believe that areas along Indus — Taunsa, Mithon Kot and Sadiqabad — ecologically suite the crop, and would have been an equally good replacement.

Instead of seeing the emerging scenario and planning for it, the federal government has simply abolished the very agency that could have provided the advice and future planning. To make the matter worse, no production and planning assignment has been given to provinces.

It is thus a total vacuum as far as edible oil development is concerned. Unfortunately, the edible oil import bill now stands second only to petroleum products.