Food Dept unlikely to meet wheat target
By Noshad Ali
LAHORE Senior officials in the Food Department believe they will not be able to meet this year’s 3.5 million-tonne wheat purchase target and are only likely to get 2.5 million tonnes by the end of May.
The provincial food secretary said though the procurement campaign would go on past its deadline, the department was confident it would have more than three million tonnes of wheat.
Food Department sources told Daily Times that in previous years, the procurement campaign ended in May with small-scale purchases made in June. However, this year the target has always seemed unlikely, with daily procurement never reaching the 100,000-tonne mark.
The department started buying wheat on April 2, much earlier than last year’s mid-April, in the hope that it could buy 3.5 million tonnes by May 20, the sources said. It had bought 1.67 million tonnes by May 8 and even if the department continues buying past May 20, it will not be able to buy enough.
“Now Food Department officials aim at buying three million tonnes of wheat, with 2.5 million tonnes the absolute minimum,” they said.
According to the sources, buying has been low because not enough farmers were willing to sell wheat to the government at Rs 360 per 40 kilogrammes when it was selling at Rs 380 to 390 per 40kg in the open market. “The Food Department has now been directed to help flour mills buy wheat. Since the mills are buying at market rates, this will also slow the procurement campaign,” the sources said.
Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA) Punjab Chairman Liaqat Ali Khan said the association would do all it can to help the Food Department buy wheat. “The Food Department will most probably be able to buy around 2.5 million tonnes. Farmers are not ready to sell wheat for Rs 360 when they are getting Rs 390 in the open market,” he said.
However, Punjab Food Secretary Shahid Hassan Raja said his department was optimistic about achieving its target. “The campaign was delayed because of the rains but it must be completed,” he said. “The comfort level starts from anything beyond 2.5 million tonnes of wheat, but the department is still optimistic about buying more than three million tonnes.”
He said almost half the wheat crop was still in the fields and would be available by the end of May. “The Food Department will cross two million tonnes by May 20 and the rest will be completed as early as possible,” he said.
Mr Raja said the procurement campaign began earlier this year because wheat harvesting began earlier this year. He said the rains had disrupted the momentum of purchasing and so the end date of the campaign had been extended. He said the department had already bought 200,000 tonnes more than in May last year.