Govt set to buy 6m tonnes of wheat
* Wheat for Afghanistan a must, says Rind
* Punjab says crop not in danger of water shortage
LAHORE: The government will buy six million tonnes of wheat from farmers this year, the federal minister for food and agriculture said here Friday.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting at Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) headquarters, Sardar Muhammad Rind said the procurement process would begin as soon as the new crop arrived.
Mr Rind said the Corporation had been asked to procure 1.4 million tonnes of wheat and the food department of the Punjab 3.5 million tonnes. The other three provinces would purchase the remaining 1.1 million tonnes, he said.
The Corporation “will set up 364 procurement centres in 14 districts of the Punjab, in five districts of Sindh and in two districts of Balochistan,” said Mr Rind. “The required funds have been released and gunny bags despatched to procurement centres,” he added.
The minister said he hoped the procurement process would begin next week in Sindh.
Mr Rind said the federal cabinet had decided against importing wheat from Australia, which he said was “not up to standards”. He said the wheat was to be imported by a private company and that the Australian government was not involved.
“Once we have met our domestic requirements, we must supply wheat to our neighbours, Afghanistan,” said Mr Rind.
Meanwhile, Punjab’s irrigation minister, Amir Sultan Cheema, said Friday that there was no threat of water shortage to the wheat crop.
Addressing a meeting attended by chief engineers from all provinces, Mr Cheema said the Indus River System Authority predicted last October an eight percent shortfall in water availability in Punjab canals and the province was allocated 18.1 million acre feet (MAF) water against its normal uses of 19.83MAF.
Due to less river flows and heavy depletion of reservoirs at Mangla and Tarbela, the Authority again reviewed availability last December and anticipated that shortages may rise to 13 percent, reducing the Punjab’s share to 17.1MAF, he said.
Mr Cheema said water availability improved because of rains in January and February reducing the shortage to 11 percent by end-February and Punjab’s share improved to 17.4MAF. He said the Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs, however, depleted to their dead storage levels in the first week of March, which worsened the situation.
The minister said provincial canals had drawn 15.5MAF as of March 10 against Punjab’s revised share of 17.4MAF. The shortage is likely to persist until end-March. Mr Cheema said the chief minister had directed canals run at fallen capacity from February 16 through March 5. He said these canals were running 70-80 percent below their capacities. —Staff Report