Wheat import should not be delayed

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Meher Azeem Hakro
Pakistan is in the grip of a food security crisis due to Covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic is causing a severe wheat crisis in the country. Further supply chain failure, poor government planning, poor management, monsoon rains and locust infestations have led to severe wheat shortages. The federal government has directed the provinces to bring their official wheat to market early. Sindh told the federal government that it would release wheat from September in the market. The prime minister believed this could lead to a nationwide wheat crisis. The decision of the federal government to release wheat immediately is right. But it should also remember that wheat must be imported in the same quantity as it is released. Failure to do so can lead to a serious food crisis in the country. Consumption of
wheat in the country is 2.2 million tons per month and we will have to import another 2.5 million tons of wheat for our needs.The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) approved the import of 2.5 million tons of wheat to meet the shortfall and bring down prices in the domestic market. Private and public sectors have been allowed to import wheat to meet the deficit of commodity. In this regard, the private sector has so far booked 270,000 tons of wheat through the Black Sea route, which will be available in the country in September or earlier. The country has sufficient stock of wheat and hence there is no
issue of demand and supply. Even wheat is being released to flour mills according to assigned quota. But still wheat and flour prices in the country are constantly rising. The government has been trying its best to convince the private sector for import as much wheat as they want. The private sector is unenthusiastic to import wheat because the importers find uncompetitive to import wheat from the international market. In this regard, the government last month announced various incentives to bridge the price gap between local and imported wheat, including relief in some regulatory and customs duties,
sales tax and holding tax. The government zeroed to all taxes so that importers can import more wheat into the country. The government even promised with importers to extend all possible facilitation in berthing, storage and clearances on the landing of shipment. Despite this, importers continued to push for more direct subsidies on wheat import. It seems that the wheat mafia is deliberately creating a fake wheat crisis in the country. Wheat is being imported in such a large quantity in the country, it will be a big challenge for TCP, NFS&R and the provinces to efficiently distribute and release the wheat to
flour mills because arranging berth space and vessels to import 2.5 million tons of wheat in such a short time is a big challenge for the government. It is also a test for the government to handle such large quantities of imports and distribute grain professionally. It is predicted that locust will stay in the country for the next couple of years. In Pakistan, 38% of the area for desert locusts is based on breeding grounds, while the risk of desert locusts not joining the breeding areas but new migration patterns of desert locusts in Asia is high. This could have serious repercussions on Pakistan's wider agricultural
economy. The Department of Plant Protection (DPP) needs to play an active role and all the lack of facilities as staff, officers, machinery and funds should be provided immediately so that locust can be contained before sowing of wheat. If we do not control the locust, our vegetables, fruits and other crops will be destroyed which can lead to food insecurity. The government should officially import wheat as soon as possible as the government has less time. If tenders are issued in few coming days, it will take the process three to four months for the wheat to arrive in Pakistan. By then, the prices of wheat and flour will have gone up. Resultantly, the end consumers will have to pay more prices for wheat and flour
because of a shortage. So the Provincial governments, PASSCO and TCP should also immediately invite bids for import of wheat in order to meet wheat shortages in the country.