NEWS COVERAGE PERIOD FROM APRIL 6TH TO APRIL 12TH 2020
ACTION AFTER FORENSIC REPORT ON CRISIS: PM
Syed Irfan Raza Updated April 06, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Terming the inquiry reports on sugar and wheat crises in the country “unprecedented”, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday said he would wait for a detailed forensic report on the matter before taking action against anyone. He vowed that no powerful lobby would be able to gain undue profit and create artificial shortage of essential items in future.
The prime minister stated this in his tweets about the much-awaited reports of a high-powered inquiry committee, headed by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Wajid Zia, which were released on Saturday. The reports shocked even people in the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) when the names of its frontline leaders and those of allied parties were mentioned for being involved in the recent wheat and sugar crises in the country that caused a sharp increase in their prices.
The prime minister also revealed in his tweets that the forensic report on the sugar and wheat crises would come out on April 25. “I wait for the detailed forensic reports now by the high-powered commission, which will come out on April 25, before taking action,” the prime minister said in the tweet.
He said no one would dare to hoard and earn undue profit after the issuance of these reports. “Insha Allah, after these reports come out, no powerful lobby will be able to profiteer at the expense of our public,” he added.
Imran vows no powerful sugar, wheat lobby will now be able to gain undue profit, create artificial shortage of essential items in future
On Saturday, two reports on the sugar and wheat crises in the country were made public, exposing ruling PTI’s bigwig Jahangir Tareen and allied parties’ leaders federal Minister for Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar, Monis Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and their relatives as being involved in the scam.
The reports were made public on the directives of the prime minister who, according to Special Assistant on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, had ordered stern action against those found involved in the crises “irrespective of their status and party affiliation”.
A source told Dawn that the prime minister and members of the inquiry commission had been ‘threatened with dire consequences if the reports were made public’. The sugar cartel had also threatened the committee that if the report was issued the commodity would be vanished from the market.
The prime minister said he had finally fulfilled the promise made to the people. “As promised, preliminary reports into [the] sudden price hikes of sugar and wheat have been released without alteration/tampering. This is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history,” he tweeted
He said the previous political leadership lacked the courage to release such information due to their “vested interests and compromises”.
Meanwhile, a source privy to recent developments on the matter told Dawn that some of the sugar mill owners, who had been gaining undue benefits for the last many years, had attended a special fund raising ceremony held in Lahore on Saturday and donated millions of rupees to the PM’s coronavirus relief fund. “But they did not know that the report was being issued the same day against them,” the source added.
The source revealed that two types of actions were recommended in the reports — administrative and legal — after finding criminality in forensic audit. The administrative action, the source said, would be taken in the next three to four days and some top officials responsible for irregularities, negligence and backing “sugar and wheat mafias” would be sacked. Stern action will be taken against sugar and wheat cartels after forensic reports are released.
The source said the owners of sugar and flour mills were quite worried about the forensic audit because they knew that all their bad deeds would get exposed in the forensic investigation.
Some of the mill owners were reluctant to cooperate by giving excuses that due to the coronavirus situation they could not open their mills for forensic audit. “But when the commission’s members said that they had powers to break their locks, the owners agreed to open their mills for the audit,” the source said.
Earlier, the forensic commission sought six months to complete the report, but the prime minister insisted that it should be completed in two months and for that purpose more than 250 people, including experts from different departments, have been given to the commission to complete the job as soon as possible.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020
‘SUBSIDY BENEFICIARIES BE ALLOWED TO RETURN MONEY TO AVERT ACTION’
The Newspaper’s Staff ReporterUpdated April 06, 2020Facebook Count
LAHORE: Various quarters are suggesting the government give an option to those who benefited from the sugar export subsidy to return the money they secured to avert action against them, and the funds thus recovered be diverted to assistance of the coronavirus-hit people.
Former chairman of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s agriculture committee, Ahmed Jawad, proposed that the government give an option to the beneficiaries of the sugar subsidy that they avert legal action by depositing with the treasury the amount they had received.
“If a person has benefited from the subsidy, whether right or wrong, he should return it. Otherwise, the government should recover the money along with fines and other penalties such as disqualifying them from any future official schemes and concessions for industries and exporters.”
He demanded that officials of the forum that approved the subsidy for sugar export also be probed to fix responsibility if they violated any rules. He regretted that the sugar millers not only secured subsidy from the government coffers, but also benefited by hiking prices of the commodity in the local market by manipulating the market forces.
He said the investigators should also probe into allegations being levelled by certain people that the subsidy was claimed even without exporting the sugar consignments.
Mr Jawad also urged the Competition Commission of Pakistan to set standard operating procedures for the sugar businesses, as such facilities were not offered to sugar millers in any part of the world.
Supporting the suggestion, the PPP has demanded the government immediately recover the funds worth billions of rupees from the sugar barons and divert them towards the coronavirus fund.
Senior leaders Aslam Gill and Malik Usman proposed that the money be used for offering at least Rs10 million as compensation to the health, police and other department staff working as frontline soldiers in the fight against the virus. The relief package for those losing their lives in the fight should be equal irrespective of their grades or pay scales, they added.
Cautioning those involved in the scam to take the Federal Investigation Agency inquiry report as writing on the wall about their future, Tehreek-i-Istaqlal President Rehmat Khan Wardag said the government should follow Saudi Arabia where the corrupt were released on payment of the funds they had plundered.
He also demanded the government do away with the subsidies to check embezzlement of the public exchequer under various garbs.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020
SAB DEMANDS STEPS FOR SURVIVAL OF AGRICULTURE SECTOR
The Newspaper’s Staff Correspondent April 06, 2020
HYDERABAD: The Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) on Saturday urged the government to allow unhindered movement of cargo, commodities, fruits and vegetables in the country as well as export of fruits and vegetables to Afghanistan, Iran and other countries. It demanded that wheat procurement centres should be opened without any delay.
The board held its online meeting under the chairmanship of Mehmood Nawaz Shah in view of the present coronavirus situation in which minimal movement is recommended.
Observing that the lockdown had adversely affected agriculture in Sindh, it said that demand contraction coupled with disruptions in supply chain was increasing losses. Unlike the industrial production, the agricultural economy could not be shut and started at will, it stated.
The board said the agricultural economy due to the lockdown had suffered major losses in the business of milk, tomatoes, banana, cauliflower, green chillies, which had seen declines in rates from 40 per cent(pc) to 70pc. Lack of cold chain, processing and storing infrastructure was damaging the agricultural economy. Tomatoes and milk were being wasted as there were no buyers, it said.
The SAB said that while the overall irrigation water supply was satisfactory, there was an extreme shortage in Khairpur area, which was hampering sowing of Kharif crops. At that juncture when water was surplus, shortage in Khairpur was not understandable, it added.
It said that a ban on the movement of labour was already impacting tomatoe harvesting in Larkana and Shikarpur. Soon the labour would be required for harvesting mangoes, it said and demanded that without compromising health and with certain standard operating procedures (SOPs), their movement should be allowed and facilitated as the step would also help in employment generation in the current difficult times.
The SAB observed that wheat purchase centres had not opened yet and demanded their opening immediately as wheat harvesting was at its peak. Distribution of bardana should be done through the committee as notified for each district by the Sindh food ministry, it added.
It said that out of about 3.8m tonne of wheat production, the government would buy 25pc approximately and therefore, it was important for the government to ensure free movement of wheat. Inter and intra provincial movement of wheat should be allowed and trend of falling rates of wheat should be arrested as it had gone down from Rs1,570 to Rs1,330. This step would ensure availability of wheat in the country. Wheat stopped on the Sindh border was increasing problems for growers, the SAB said.
The meeting also noted that sunflower harvesting was in full swing and growers were promised Rs2,700 as minimum rate, but currently the rate had gone down to Rs2,300. Sunflower could be a strategic crop for Pakistan which spent over $3bn on its import; substantial quantum of foreign exchange could be saved if domestic growers were supported, it said.
Showing deep concern over lack of government support to the agriculture sector which employed 42pc of the country population, the SAB demanded that the federal and provincial governments should provide following some relief to the agricultural economy for survival.
It demanded withdrawal of sales tax on fertilizers and pesticides; waiver on well electricity bills for six months; permission for export of fruits and vegetables to Afghanistan, Iran and other countries; unhindered movement of cargo, commodities, fruits and vegetables; medium-to-long-term strategies for the-state-of-art-storages, processing and smart infrastructure to help the agricultural economy sustain shocks.
The meeting was attended by Dr Bashir Nizamani, Dr Zulfiqar Yousfani, Syed Nadeem Shah, Mehmood Nawaz Shah, Sarfaraz Junejo and others.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020
IN THE MESSY LINE OF FOOD
From the Newspaper April 06, 2020
FEEDING millions of people amid lockdowns and disrupted supply chains is a daunting task and its delivery requires that the federal and provincial governments think and act cohesively. The delivery also requires discipline on the part of all provincial and federal agencies and the private sector involved in the implementation of different parts of the task.
Broadly speaking, the task at hand is three-fold. We need to ensure that wheat — and even summer-maize — harvesting is carried out safely and farmers continue to tend to minor crops including those of pulses and vegetables. We need to ensure the unhindered and safe transportation of farm produce and food supplies across Pakistan. And finally, we need to devise a mechanism to feed the poor daily wage earners affected most by lockdowns.
Fortunately, there is lots of operational focus on feeding the poor and isolated people. Federal and provincial governments, social arms of some political parties and non-governmental organisations are all working for it.
Safe harvesting of wheat and unhindered transportation of supplies need to be ensured and a mechanism devised to feed the poor daily-wage earners
For the movement of farm produce and essential food items across and within provinces, lockdown restrictions have been relaxed. And for ensuring the continuation of work on farm fields especially during the upcoming wheat harvest, federal and provincial governments are coordinating.
During the last year, domestic human consumption of wheat was estimated at around 24.2 million tonnes and that of rice 3.4m tonnes. In addition to wheat and rice, maize is also used, though on a limited scale, as a staple food. Last year an estimated 1.2m tonnes out of the total output of 6.3m tonnes was used for making bread and other food items. Accounting for our population growth, we should expect a bit higher consumption of wheat, rice and maize. The federal government has constituted a national committee to oversee the availability and supplies of food. The committee must also be required to share details of the stocks of food commodities with media and provincial breakups should be made public. If this is not done, speculations would continue creating short-lived food crises and making it difficult for federal and provincial authorities to focus on the fight against Covid-19. Already reports of short supplies of wheat flour and sugar have once again sent their prices to new heights at a time when the provincial government is busy fighting the coronavirus.
Sugarcane production this year has declined for the second consecutive year to 65m tonnes from 67m tonnes a year earlier. The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association claims that this has affected sugar production in the country adding that with the carryover stock of about 1.4m tonnes of 2019, total availability this year would be down to 6.6m tonnes against 7.7m tonnes last year. Against this, domestic consumption this year is estimated to be around 5.6m tonnes. So, technically speaking there shouldn’t be any sugar crisis in the country.
The case of wheat is different though. Unless uncertainty about the smooth harvesting of the crop amid lockdowns is put to rest, markets would continue to speculate on supplies. Since media reports about the inadequacy of wheat reserves fuel speculations, the high-level committee tasked with ensuring food supplies during the Covid-19 emergency must take provinces and public into confidence.
As the number of coronavirus cases rises in the country, ensuring the unimpeded movement of goods transport across Pakistan is becoming difficult. On March 31, the federal government feeling unhappy with Sindh’s government “lack of cooperation” in this regard asked paramilitary rangers to ensure free movement of goods transport. A better way of doing this would have been to remove Sindh’s concern – if there were any. On the other hand, the Sindh government complained that the federal authorities were delaying sharing of data on daily wage earners making it difficult for provincial authorities to distribute free ration bags among them.
These two examples show how our political leadership can mess up even during crisis management. This must come to end. During this health crisis, ensuring the safe and smooth movement of food supplies across provinces is a must. And so is sharing of critical data that provinces can rely on for distributing food hand-outs to those in need.
Right from the surfacing of the first Covid-19 case on Feb 26, the response of federal and provincial governments has not been in unison. Business lobbies were also found wanting on forming a joint strategy alongside authorities. The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry complained it was not taken on board by the federal government till the end of March on how to ensure availability of food items amid lockdowns. Farmer lobbies made similar complaints about both federal as well as provincial governments. One fallout of the delay in the formation of a joint strategy to combat Covid-19 was that markets witnessed an increase in prices of wheat flour, rice, cooking oil, pulses and packaged food items — whereas prices of milk and most vegetables, particularly tomatoes, crashed.
Stabilising prices of essential food items is as necessary as checking the hoarding and panic-induced bulk buying as both can disturb the normal functioning of markets and affect supplies negatively with a time lag.
The holy month of Ramazan is due to begin in the last week of April. It would be better if the federal and provincial governments engage farmer lobbies, food manufacturing companies and importers, exporters and domestic bulk traders of food items. Without taking their inputs at all levels of decision-making, no strategy to fight the coronavirus-triggered food crisis can succeed. —MA
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 6th, 2020
PFMA KP URGES GOVTS TO EXEMPT FLOUR INDUSTRY FROM TAXES
BR Web Desk April 06, 2020
Pakistan Flour Mills Association Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (PFMA-KP) chapter demanded of the federal and provincial government to exempt flour industry from all taxes amid outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the province.
In a statement issued here on Sunday, PFMA KP chapter chairman, Hajji Muhammad Iqbal said that flour industry is adversely affected by recent outbreak of coronavirus pandemic. So, he appealed the Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, Minister for Food and Agriculture, provincial food department and relevant authorities to waive off income tax on head of electricity bill and other extra taxes.
The Association president said despite wheat shortage and crisis, the flour mills industry is continuously supplied flour in local market to avoid any shortage of this food commodity in the province. He said the labour is working in flour industry insignificant number owing to outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.
However, he said flour industry has arranged additional labour to run the mills around the clock to ensure availability of huge quantum of flour to people in local markets and fulfill the food commodity requirement and prevent from creating any flour crisis in the province.
On the occasion, PFMA KP chapter group leader, Muhammad Naeem Butt said the flour mills owners have ensured sufficient production of flour despite the wheat shortages and crisis.
He said the cutting of fresh wheat began in Sindh, saying that wheat is available in Sindh in sufficient quantity, therefore, KP flour mills should allow to procure wheat from Sindh immediately. In this regard, he urged the federal and provincial government to remove hurdles in procurement of new wheat from Sindh and relief to flour industry by exemption from taxes at optimal level.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
‘GROWER’ BIGGEST BENEFICIARY OF SUGAR EXPORT: PSMA CHIEF
BR Web Desk April 06, 2020
While welcoming the release of the inquiry committee report on sugar by the federal government, Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) Chairman Aslam Faruque has said that an open, fair and facts based discussion was exactly what the sugar industry wanted and that could not happen as long as the findings had not been disclosed.
“However, it was unfortunate that the minute the report was made public, media blew up the whole affair in the hunt for sensationalism,” he said in a statement issued here on Sunday. He requested the media that rather than focusing on personalities and always looking to play the blame game, they should study the report with good intentions and for benefit of the whole country. “It is clear that the Committee has done a lot of hard work in a short span of time but they are dealing with issues that are very complex and often older than our country itself. They simply cannot be understood in a matter of weeks,” Faruque said, adding: “While we were happy that the Committee heard the PSMA’s introductory presentation on the industry, we wish they had come back and questioned us on the anomalies/queries they encountered before submitting their report as this would have made for a fairer and clearer report.”
He expressed his desire to continue working with the Commission which was taking a deeper look at the industry and requested that this time around, the Commission should allot more time to the association so there was no misunderstanding of facts.
Pointing to the biggest anomaly of the report, he stated that on the one hand the report blames export for the rise in ex mill price of sugar from Rs.51.64 to Rs.63.59, on the other it clearly lays out that the cost of sugar at Rs.180/maund for 2018-19 of cane was well above Rs.63.59! How would the industry and the farmer have survived if the surplus sugar in the country was not facilitated for export and sugar prices stayed at levels that were barely enough to pay for the sugarcane?
“Before the export policy of the PTI government, sugar mills were going out of business and sugarcane growers were in desperate straits. This government should take the credit that it has brought balance back to the sugarcane economy with exports. An investment of Rs.3 Billion by the Punjab Government to facilitate exports not only earned approximately Rs.50 Billion foreign exchange for the country in a time of desperate need but also the farmers got roughly Rs.70 Billion more than the minimum support price from the sugar mills in 2019-20 season. If anyone thinks sugar export was such a bad idea, go ask sugarcane farmers how much their economic situation has improved over last 12 months”. Finally, the chairman said that these were only initial remarks and promised that the association would share more comments about the contents of the report after doing thorough reading and analysis.-PR
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
FISHERMEN IN COASTAL VILLAGES RECEIVE RATIONS, AID
By Our Correspondent Published: April 6, 2020
KARACHI: The fishermen residing in the coastal areas of Sindh were given rations and monetary aid on Sunday, as per the directives of Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) chairperson Hafeez Abdul Bar, to help them pull through the financial crunch in the wake of a country-wide lockdown.
Speaking in this regard, Bar, who was supervising the distribution, said, “We have been trying to reach the fishermen in all remote areas along the coastal belt for rations and money distribution.”
He has directed FCS director Asif Bhatti to oversee the disbursement in Baba and Bhit, Shams Pir, Mubarak Village and Younisabad, and ensure that all needing help are provided assistance.
Bar praised the Pakistan Navy for helping the fishermen in this time of crisis and said that FCS, as well as the Pakistan Navy, would continue to provide them aid.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2020.
PULSES, EDIBLE OIL IMPORTS STUCK AT PORT AWAITING SRO
Aamir Shafaat Khan Updated April 07,
KARACHI: Importers of pulses and representatives of the edible oil industry said on Monday that they are unable to clear their consignments from the port because duty and tax relief related Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) have still not been issued.
On March 30, the government had decided on to bring advance tax on import of pulses to zero from two per cent and exemption of two per cent additional customs duty on oil seeds and palm oil imports.
The government had reduced different taxes and duties on import and supply of different food items for alleviating the adverse impact of Covid-19 and lockdown.
“Our members are waiting for the SRO so that they can get duty relief on pulses imports,” Patron in Chief, Karachi Wholesalers Grocers Association (KWGA), Anis Majeed said.
Shortages feared as demand surges due to lockdown
The KWGA chief said he has taken up the matter with Chief Collector of Customs on Monday. She responded that as soon as she gets any information, the decision would be announced on the Customs website, he added.
Anis said a number of importers are confused whether to clear their consignments of pulses while few of them are trying to clear their goods as they believe that not releasing pulses may create shortage in the markets at a time when buying of pulses and other essential items have surged sharply on rising demand from ration providers to the poor people.
He claimed that 400-500 containers carrying about 25 tonnes each of various pulses from Australia, Canada and Myanmar are awaiting clearance.
He said importers of oil seeds are also double minded as they are not clearing 32,000 tonnes of canola seed that landed at Karachi Port and another 64,000 tonnes at Port Qasim.
Former vice chairman Pakistan Vanasapati Manufacturers Association (PVMA), Sheikh Umer Rehan said he did not understand why the government took decision of providing relief to the masses when the SRO of the said decision had not issued in one week’s time on palm oil and various oil seeds.
The edible oil industry and solvent extractors are waiting for the SRO to clear their consignments on duty relief.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2020
RESEARCHERS SUGGEST DELISTING OF 9 WHEAT VARIETIES
By Khawar Randhawa Published: April 7, 2020
FAISALABAD: Due to the devastating effects of rust plant disease, scientists at the Ayub Agricultural Research Institute (AARI) have recommended delisting of nine varieties of wheat and urged farmers to avoid sowing such low yield varieties in the future.
AARI Director Wheat Research Institute Dr Javed Ahmad told The Express Tribune that the names of nine wheat varieties prone to rust disease will be sent to the Punjab Seed Council, a subsidiary of the Punjab Seed Corporation, for delisting.
The blacklisted varieties are TD-1, Seher-06, Galaxy-13, Galaxy-2, Gandam-1, AARI-12, AS-2002, Chakwal-50 and Pakistan-13, which demonstrated more susceptibility to wheat rust than others.
“We had suggested delisting these varieties last year as well. However, the Punjab Seed Council decided to give these one more year to be sure of their lack of resistance towards rust over time,” Ahmad revealed.
NICVD offers Sindh govt assistance to set up mobile labs for COVID-19 testing
The director said that he was waiting for the final harvest data (harvesting season to start next week in Punjab) to put his case forth again.
“All-out efforts should be made to supply certified seeds to the farmers and discourage the use ofmixture wheat seeds saved at homes for sowing.”
The institute suggests plantation of rust-tolerant wheat varieties like Akbar-19, Anaj-17, Ujala-16, Faisalabad-08, Barani-17, Fatehjang-16, Fakhar-e-Bhakkar, Zincol, FatehJang-16, Gold-16 and NARC-11 for loss prevention and better yield.
In 2019, billions of rupees were lost as harvest suffered due to rain and hailstorms and the aggravation of rust on wheat causing cumulative loss of 4% of the total production (approximately one million tonnes).
The 34th Quarterly Early Warning Bulletin of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) warned of escalation of wheat rust infliction “if the levels of rainfall increase” in Pakistan.
Scientists describe wheat rust as a group of deadly, constantly changing fungal pathogens that pose a serious threat to several varieties worldwide.
Pakistan is mainly affected by two wheat rust varieties, leaf rust more commonly known as brown rust, and stripe rust also known as yellow rust, Dr Ghulam Hussain, a wheat scientist associated with Regional Agriculture Research Institute Bahawalpur, explained.
“These two strains can result in crippling losses of up to 60% of the yield in case of an epidemic, particularly that of yellow rust,” he warned. Dr Hussain stressed that growers should sow wheat during November or early December to prevent infliction of rusts.
“The disease hits the crop during February and March. If the seeds have been sown early, the crop matures in these months annulling infliction chances completely.”
The yellow rust, Yr27 virulent strain, caused significant losses in Central and South Asia in 2009, 2010 and 2013, according to the FAO Wheat Rust Diseases Global Programme 2014–2017 report.
Scientists across the globe agree to resistance breeding, fast track testing, release and deployment of new rust resistant varieties with diverse genetic background as the core strategy to manage rusts.
Fungicides serve as the immediate cure to instantaneously combat the rusts’ sporadic outbreaks, giving authorities enough time to assess the strains and multiply new resistant crop varieties.
Tales of survivors: ‘I became so paranoid, I thought doctors would kill me’
The ongoing wheat season was highly favourable for the yellow rust owing to the prolonged cool and humid weather across the region. However, different wheat varieties showed differential resistance/susceptibility behavior against rust.
The districts of Rahim Yar Khan, Sadiqabad, Bahawalpur, Lodhran, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, Sheikhupura, Sialkot and Attock witnessed severity of the yellow rust in this Rabi season.
Fortunately, wheat crop is near maturity now and the prevailing high temperature does not favour the fungal menace. Nevertheless it is crucial that the government develops a thorough plan to guarantee plantation of the resistant wheat varieties to protect the financial interests of the growers as well as develop an effective strategy to wipe out these parasites.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2020.
PUNJAB EXPORTED WHEAT ON ASAD UMAR’S ORDERS: EX-MINISTER
Amjad Mahmood Updated April 08, 2020
LAHORE: In his first media encounter since resigning as Punjab food minister a day ago, Samiullah Chaudhry on Tuesday claimed that Asad Umar, as then federal finance minister, had asked for exporting wheat despite his opposition.
Threatening to expose the forces involved in the wheat flour report conspiracy, he said the inquiry committee never wished to summon him for investigation.
“Asad Umar as federal finance minister had chaired a high-level meeting in Islamabad early last year and asked for exporting some of the wheat stocks, 7.2 million tonnes in Punjab at that time. I opposed the move because the government would have to offer subsidy for the export [for the grain being costlier than the world prices],” Mr Chaudhry told a private TV channel.
“I said the country could not afford to give the subsidy and suggested rather selling out the same stocks in the local market [for the benefit of the local population],” he said, adding that flour mills in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still enjoyed subsidised wheat at the cost of Punjab kitty and he had asked the FIA DG-led inquiry committee to also include this fact in its report.
Planning minister says it was a collective decision
“Punjab is unfairly incurring the cost of the subsidy offered on the wheat supplied to Islamabad and KP mills. The beneficiaries must share the liability,” he added.
Mr Chaudhry said Punjab had procured 83 per cent of the wheat produced last year, while no other province purchased a single grain [which led to the flour crisis later in 2019].
Terming the FIA report one-sided, he cast doubts about its purpose. “It seemed the inquiry committee members were bent upon fixing responsibility, whether right or wrong, as the prime minister had given them the task to do it.”
The former minister claimed that the committee never summoned him and he joined the investigation on his own. He alleged that the committee neither properly recorded his statement nor made the letters he had written to the department concerned part of the report.
About the allegation made in the report that as a minister he had failed to introduce reforms in his department, Mr Chaudhry said he had not joined the cabinet with reforms in the food department as his agenda but would first ask the Federal Investigation Agency and Anti-Corruption Establishment authorities, who were part of the inquiry committee, how much reforms they had introduced in their own agencies.
Moreover, when the secretary of the department would be transferred four times in just one-and-a-half years, and without seeking opinion of the minister, then how reforms could be introduced, he wondered.
In his reaction to the allegation, Asad Umar, now Minister for Planning and Development, said it was not his personal but a collective decision taken on the condition that prices won’t be allowed to be increased in the local market. He said the decision was first taken by the Economic Coordination Committee and then endorsed by the federal cabinet.
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020
FARMERS WANT COTTON SUPPORT PRICE BE FIXED AT RS 5000/MAUND
BR Web Desk April 08, 2020
Farmers representatives have urged the government to announce support price of the cotton crop for the current season at Rs 5000 per maund on priority basis encouraging the farmers to go for this crop.
“Cotton season has almost begun and soon it will be in full swing by the mid of April,” said Farmers Bureau of Pakistan (FBP) while talking to Business Recorder on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, FBP President Dr Zafar Hayat commenting on relaxing the cottonseed germination standard by the National Seed Council (NSC) termed it another failure of the agriculture departments, both federal and provincial, exposing their inability to proactively manage agriculture-related issues and formulating policies.
“No doubt, last year bad weather condition played a partial role in poor seed germination but it is the management practices by the registered seed growers and the poor seed standards by the private and public seed companies which are responsible for bad seed germination this season – Kharif 2020. In previous years when weather was even favorable, the seed companies never achieved the good seed germination and the good seed quality,” claimed FBP President.
He further said for persons in the government sector it has been a lot easier to fix the responsibility on the factors which cannot be made accountable. The seed mafia has always misled the government and unfortunately from last few years even Punjab Seed Corporation, once an exemplary institution, has also failed to perform.
The germination of seed starts from the good management practices by the registered growers for multiplying the seed to the storage and processing by the seed companies. At every step, no strict measures are taken to control the quality of the seed and its germination.
Mian Shaukat, Senior Vice President FBP strongly opposed the idea of approving the standards of seed 50% germination for the current cotton year, while on the other hand Imran Shah Khaga, District Coordinator Khanewal, FBP, is of the opinion that some relaxation should be given for the current year. Both agreed that this year there should be the strict application of laws for “Truth in Label”.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
PRICES OF VEGETABLES AND FRUITS SKYROCKET IN DADU DURING LOCKDOWN
The Newspaper’s CorrespondentApril 09, 2020
DADU: Profiteers appear to have a free reign during lockdown as prices of most of the essential commodities, especially vegetables and fruits, continue to rise in the absence of an efficient and effective price control mechanism.
Several vendors, shoppers and officials Dawn interviewed on Wednesday disclosed that vendors had, in collusion with market committee officials, raised the prices of almost all vegetables and fruits to take advantage of the situation emerging out of the lockdown.
Citizens complained that onion, a common ingredient for all dishes, was being sold for Rs40 kilo while its price had been fixed at Rs25 and Rs30 per kg. In addition, ladyfinger was being sold at Rs100 to 120 a kilo, ridge gourd at Rs160-170 a kg which had been Rs40-45 a kilo before lockdown and green capsicum was available at Rs80-90 a kilo, which was being offered at merely Rs40-45 a kilo, they said.
Price of papaya, a seasonal fruit, had risen to Rs120 to 150 a kilo from Rs60-80 a kilo, watermelon’s price had soared to Rs50-60 a kg from Rs25 and 40 a kilo, melon’s price had risen to Rs60-70 a kg from Rs40 and 50 a kg and the price of sweet lime had jumped to Rs120 and 150 a kg from Rs70 and 80, they said.
They said that vendors were selling mixed variety of onion, peas, green capsicum, ladyfinger, cucumber, ridge gourd, cauliflower and other vegetables as well as fruits and charging people the price for the sorted variety.
Shahzad Soomro, a citizen, said that since the residents were not able to go to Sabzi Mandi to buy vegetables and fruits of their choice at affordable rates because of lockdown and fears over coronavirus spread, vendors were fleecing them mercilessly.
“Instead of controlling inflation and artificial hike in prices, the district administration and food department officials have given traders and greengrocers a free hand to fleece citizens,” he said.
Another citizen Advocate Mohammad Ali said that lockdown-hit people were leading a miserable life after losing their jobs, businesses and small enterprises but the officials of food department and district government appeared to be in deep slumber and lethargy.
“The prices of essential commodities are skyrocketing but no action is being taken by district or local government to deal with the situation,” he said.
Saleem Raza Panhwar said that the prices of seasonal vegetables and fruits had risen so much that people had to think twice before buying. “The district government’s price control system has proven useless. The officials of price control committees just make a show of checking prices of commodities to demonstrate that they are performing their duties,” he said.
Israr Shaikh, a government employee, said that officials had no control over vendors, retailers, merchants, traders and shopkeepers who had unilaterally raised prices, throwing official rate lists into garbage pail.
In order to control the prices of seasonal fruits and vegetables, Dadu deputy commissioner directed all major stores to enforce the prices notified by the government.
The district administration issues rate lists for stores, fruit and vegetable retail bazaars after public outcry over exorbitant increase in the price of seasonal fruits and vegetables but no one seems to implement it and the retailers are free to loot the masses who are already reeling from the fallout of lockdown.
The district government appears reluctant to enforce the notified rates across the board.
DC Raja Shahzaman Khuhro said that the price control officials should perform their duties proactively and the rate lists should be displayed at all shops where they could be seen easily.
“In order to curb profiteering, I have decided to pay surprise visits myself to check whether the price lists were being implemented,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Mohammad Ali Baloch said that Rs25,000 fine was imposed on hoarders, grocers, shopkeepers, fruit sellers and vegetable vendors in the city. The exercise of checking price lists continued in Dadu and its surrounding areas, he added.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020
PUNJAB TO PROCURE WHEAT AT RS1400 PER MAUND: BUZDAR
BR Web Desk April 10, 2020
Chief Minister Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar inaugurated the wheat harvesting campaign 2020 in Matwa Village of Rojhan Tehsil in Rajanpur district by cutting the crop with harvester on Thursday.
Addressing on this occasion, the CM said that this year’s wheat procurement target was fixed at 4.5 million metric tons and the wheat would be procured at the rate of Rs1400 per maund.
“The restriction of gardawari has been done away with and provincial ministers will also monitor the procurement campaign in their assigned districts,” says a message received here.
The CM disclosed that 15 inter-provincial entry and exits points would also be fully monitored during the campaign. He reiterated that the interests of the farmers would be protected and every wheat grain would be procured as they were the benefactors of the nation.
The CM disclosed that different projects worth Rs300 billion were launched in Punjab under PM Agriculture Emergency Programme. A project worth Rs12.5 billion had also been started to increase the per acre wheat yield, he added.
The CM said that Rs8.5 billion subsidy was also given to 5.2 million farmers to purchase fertilizes and 10,000 watercourses were being concrete-lined in Punjab with an amount of Rs28 billion to improve the supply of water.
The chief minister further said the Punjab government had introduced 80 new verities of vegetables, fruits and other commodities besides starting complaint management system for eradicating spurious pesticides and fertilizers. Similarly, interest-free loans worth Rs15 billion had also been given to farmers under the e-credit scheme, he said.
Later, the CM visited the wheat procurement centre in Matwa Village of Rojhan tehsil and distributed gunny bags among the farmers. In the wake of coronavirus pandemic, implementation of necessary SOPs will be ensured to protect farmers, he said.
The CM Usman Buzdar also visited the DHQ Hospital Rajanpur to review facilities arranged for the coronavirus patients.
He directed to ensure better treatment and healthcare facilities to patients in Rajanpur district, adding the shortage of doctors and paramedics would be overcome soon and consultant doctors will also be appointed in this hospital.
Usman Buzdar maintained that health advisory was being strictly implemented for safety from coronavirus.
He pointed out that Punjab had taken the lead by implementing Punjab Infectious Diseases Prevention & Control Ordinance, 2020 and permission had been granted to hire the services of 10,000 doctors and paramedics. He said that a maximum number of tests of coronavirus patients were conducted in Punjab and that facility would be increased to 10,000 tests daily in the next few days.
The CM expressed the satisfaction that a 1000-bed field hospital was set up at Expo Centre Lahore adding he was visiting different districts to personally monitor the medical facilities.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
EX-FOOD SECY TERMS INQUIRY REPORT ON WHEAT BID TO SAVE FLOUR MAFIA
Mansoor Malik Updated April 11, 2020
LAHORE: Former Punjab food secretary Naseem Sadiq has rejected the federal government inquiry committee’s “Wheat flour crisis inquiry report,” terming it an abortive attempt to save the nexus of the flour mafia and their benefactors by deflecting flour crisis to wheat procurement. He has also sought a judicial inquiry into the matter to unfold the truth.
Mr Sadiq claims that the inquiry committee has attempted to mislead Prime Minister Imran Khan and adds that he will look towards the collective conscience of the system and the authorities to decide its destiny or fate.
Mr Sadiq, who was serving as commissioner Dera Ghazi Khan division, was made the officer on special duty (OSD) on his own request on Monday to allow him to defend himself in the wake of allegations leveled against him.
In his detailed reply written to Punjab chief secretary (made public on Friday), Mr Sadiq has explained his position, stating that the inquiry report was “factually wrong” and substantiated his claims with official documents.
He has leveled allegations against two members of the committee for trying to victimise him. He states that the deputy director-general of Intelligence Bureau (IB) had pressurised him at the highest possible level to withdraw an allotment of an official residence from a judge of Special Anti-Corruption Court, which was under his illegal possession despite being transferred.
Rejects report in letter to CS; seeks judicial inquiry
“Mujhy allotment cancellation order subah tak chaheye,” Mr Sadiq quotes the deputy DG IB as saying.
Referring to another member of the inquiry committee, says he had not spared the official for certain irresponsibility in the past, which is part of the history, known to many.
The former food secretary further says the FIA’s inquiry committee did not fulfill its task of unearthing the flour mafia and fixing of responsibility thereof.
“The report attempts to deflect the attention away from a tangible crime that should have been quantified in no unequivocal terms but conveniently skipped by creating smokescreen in form of an assembly line of scapegoat to give benefit to the mafia involved in the flour crisis (The Actual Crisis), which if allowed to go scot-free, at this juncture, shall again resurface to play havoc, on an unprecedented scale.”
Referring to the allegations raised against him in the report, the former food secretary, in his letter, refutes the allegation of delaying wheat procurement campaign for 22 days. He explains that the wheat procurement campaign had started some eight days before his joining the office on April 16, 2019.
“How I can be held responsible for delaying the campaign for 22 days even before my becoming the food secretary?” he wonders.
Mr Sadiq has made it clear that no delay otherwise occurred at all in wheat procurement in Punjab and factually incorrect information seems to have been intentionally inserted in the report to deceive the prime minister and build a false case of the Punjab government’s failure in wheat procurement – in a bid to help the mafia behind flour crisis go scot-free.
“The committee in its supplementary report did acknowledge that the harvesting season in Punjab starts in middle of April, contradicting its earlier claim of delaying the wheat procurement campaign 2019-20.”
Citing the next allegation in the report that a “tacit approval was given to poultry feed mills to procure wheat”, Mr Sadiq explains that the said permission, rather sale, by the food department was done much before his joining as the food secretary. He explains that the “tacit approval by looking other way” is not possible because there are 36 deputy commissioners who practically, administratively and legally become head of the food department in their respective districts during wheat procurement campaign each year besides other diverse set of highly professionals, including food controllers, DPOs and other officials, managing the wheat procurement campaign.
The FIRs were registered and raids were conducted by respective district administrations to materialise the objectives of Wheat Procurement Campaign 2019-20 and same was duly acknowledged at the Punjab cabinet level, Mr Naseem Sadiq says.
He adds that the Wheat Procurement Policy 2019-20 was approved by the Punjab Cabinet and gave approval for adopting an open procurement regime by removing the bardana etc ceiling, which itself nullifies another allegation quoted in the said report as corruption in bardana issuance.
Mr Sadiq explains that the food secretary is neither competent nor in a position to alter the target set for procurement at his personal level as it has always been a cabinet decision.
He says the cabinet was duly apprised about the procurement of 3MMT wheat by May 23 last year when eight days were left to the closure of the campaign. He stated the market price of wheat was stable and the growers had benefitted from the campaign due to stable price regime.
Though the wheat procurement campaign had to be run till May 31 last year, the Director Food Punjab, after assessment of the field situation, submitted request for formal closure of the campaign, a routine formal practice exercised every year, because the department had procured a reasonable quantity of 33,06,763 MT wheat. However, Mr Sadiq writes, the wheat procurement continued till June 10. The former food secretary reiterates that the FIA’s inquiry report deliberately confused the crisis of flour with wheat to provide leeway to the mafia as the crisis was that of the availability of flour and not of the wheat.
In the end, Mr Sadiq says that he had just touched the tip of the iceberg in his letter, explaining his position to the chief secretary.
When contacted, the chief secretary office stated that it was yet to receive the letter.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2020
COVID-19 LOCKDOWN SPARKS HARVEST CRISES IN PAKISTAN, INDIA
By Anadolu Agency Published: April 10, 2020
KARACHI / NEW DELHI: Trees have bent, bearing the load of ripened summer fruits and a bumper crop of wheat in a golden hue is ready for harvest in the fields, spread across the plains of Pakistan and India.
But in the absence of labour and means of transportation due to lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus, millions of farmers are staring at another disaster, watching their produce rotting in their fields.
The harvest of famed fruit of the region mango is also just a month away. Experts believe that the phenomenon will have cascading effects on the region’s food security.
Ahmad Ali, a farmer from Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province, is running from pillar to post to arrange labour for the harvesting of wheat, which in his area is set to commence next week. He is one of the thousands of farmers, desperately looking for labour to harvest wheat, mainly in Punjab, and southern Sindh, the two bread-baskets for Pakistan.
Pope guides locked-down world through virtual Easter
Around 70% of Pakistan’s small farmers rely on traditional farm labourers, who come from the remote or the low-income areas before the harvesting season. They could not make it this time due to weeks-long lockdown.
“There is an acute shortage of labour here. I am completely clueless what to do,” said Ali, 37, who owns seven-acre farmland in Okara district located some 119 kilometres (74.3 miles) from Lahore, the provincial capital.
And, those who are available have shot up their rates.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, last week, announced the lifting of the ban on movement of transport and machinery for harvesting. The move, however, proved to be less practical.
“Most of our machinery needs repairs and overhauling every year around harvest season. The workshops remained closed,” Ali told Anadolu Agency on phone.
“Some workshops have reopened during the last four-five days [after prime minister’s order] but they cannot meet the workloads,” he added.
In nearby India, the situation is no different. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat — the key food basket states — are desperately looking for labour to harvest wheat and gram.
“Now is the time to harvest crops like wheat and gram, while the harvesting season for mustard is already over. But there is no labour available,” Surendra Singh Bhati, a small farmer, told Anadolu Agency.
No means to transport the crop to markets
Even those farmers, who have harvested their crops taking help from their relatives and neighbours are not able to sell the produce in the absence of transportation.
Apart from wheat, heaps of plucked vegetables are lying in the fields in different states, shattering the hopes of farmers to get bumper profits this year.
“We cannot sell them [vegetables] due to the lockdown. No means of transport is available to take them to wholesale markets. We pluck cabbage, cauliflower, and other vegetables but are forced to feed them to the cattle,” Aakash Patel, a farmer from Sagar district of central Madhya Pradesh state, told Anadolu Agency.
Reports coming from different parts of rural India suggest that the farmers are dumping fruits and vegetables outside their villages or feeding them to their cattle.
Zahid Bhurgari, a farmer from Pakistan’s southern Mirpur Khas district, termed the situation disastrous.
“On the one hand the prices of vegetables have decreased due to closure of hotels, restaurants, and banquets, on the other, the absence of transport due to lockdown is acting a double whammy. Even the transport available is costing us three times the actual cost,” Bhurgari told Anadolu Agency.
“We are left with no other option, but to leave the crops to rot in the fields,” said the angry farmer.
Food security serious issue
The governments in both the countries have also delayed procurement of crops from farmers, an annual exercise to a full-up buffer stock of food grains, which also acts as an incentive to farmers to ensure a minimum support price.
In India, the central government has asked the farmers to delay harvesting given the situation. Experts fear that the delay in the harvesting of crops, mainly wheat may lead to serious food security issues in the two nuclear neighbours, which together share 1.5 billion of the total world population.
Sachin Kumar Jain, an adviser to the Indian supreme court-appointed commission on the right to food campaign, described the situation “challenging” for the farmers. He said it had the potential to affect the food security of the world’s second-largest populated nation.
“Almost 55% of the Indian workforce comes from the agriculture sector. The present situation has brought the farm sector to a halt,” he told Anadolu Agency.
He noted that the delay in harvesting would affect the preparations for the next rain-fed crops, which would add to the already deteriorating situation.
UN chief calls for solidarity among discordant Security Council over coronavirus crisis
Shaukat Ali Chadhar, secretary-general of Kisan (farmer) Board of Pakistan, a non-governmental agricultural advisory and research organization, endorsed Jain’s view.
“The area of cultivation for wheat has already reduced due to a combination of flawed government policies, and changing weather patterns in recent years. The delay in time-bound harvesting could destroy huge amounts of winter crops, particularly wheat, across the country,” said Chadhar.
Fear of contracting COVID-19 has also disrupted harvesting. “Several labourers have personally told me that they are scared of getting infected,” Chadhar said.
TRACTOR REPAIR SHOPS OPENED
The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter April 12, 2020
LAHORE: The Punjab government on Saturday decided to allow opening of tractor workshops and spare parts shops throughout the province with a view to facilitating farmers during the wheat harvest.
The decision was taken at a meeting jointly presided over by Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat and Chief Secretary retired Maj Azam Suleman Khan.
The meeting also reviewed provision of healthcare for coronavirus patients, availability and prices of eatables and distribution of financial assistance in Lahore and Faisalabad under the Prime Minister’s Ehsaas Programme.
Speaking at the meeting, the chief secretary said farmers would be given all possible facilities during wheat harvest and procurement campaign. He mentioned that the decision to allow opening of tractor workshops and spare parts shops was taken so that farmers do not face any problem during wheat harvest.
The meeting was told that coronavirus tests of all foreigners who attended Tableeghi Ijtama have been completed and testing kits dispatched to districts. The Lahore commissioner told the meeting that under the PM’s Ehsaas Programme distribution of cash among 59,135 registered persons would be done in Lahore in phases. The Lahore capital city police office said 31 centres had been established in the city for provision of financial aid and 20 policemen would be deployed at each centre for security.
The meeting also reviewed prices of essential commodities and crackdown on hoarders ahead of Ramazan. The food secretary told the meeting that from March to April 9 hoarded edibles worth Rs882 million were recovered in the province. These include 748 ton sugar, 44 ton ghee, 1,400 ton red chili, 120 ton rice, 3,211 ton flour, 22 ton wheat and 750 ton pulses. He maintained that crackdown on hoarders would be expedited in the province.
The food secretary, Lahore commissioner and PITB chairman participated in the meeting whereas divisional commissioners joined through video link.
ADDITIONAL CHARGE: The Punjab government has given additional charge of post of managing director Punjab Journalist Housing Foundation (PJHF) to Ms Nabeela Ghazanfar, the director (public relations to chief secretary), and the information and culture department has issued a notification in this regard.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020
NASEEM SADIQ BELIEVES MAFIA INVOLVED IN FAKE WHEAT EXPORT GOT HIM INDICTED
April 12, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Apart from raising question on the competence and intentions of the members of inquiry committee on wheat/flour crisis, former Secretary Food Naseem Sadiq claimed the mafia who was getting rebate on wheat export, which was never sent abroad but only on papers, got him transferred from the post of secretary food.
Former Food Secretary Punjab Naseem Sadiq has submitted his detailed reply to Chief Secretary in response to the allegations leveled against him in the wheat/flour crisis inquiry report. Mr Sadiq has raised serious questions not only on the system but also pointed out flaws in the report, which, according to him, has been done deliberately to deflect the flour crisis to wheat procurement to save the nexus of the mafia and their benefactors in Punjab.
According to him, some malpractices of sinister nature came into his knowledge as a food secretary, which he reported to his higher-ups. However, this reportage of the crime resulted in his transfer from the post of food secretary. The same mafia has managed to get him indicted through this report as, according to Mr Sadiq, a smokescreen has been created to give benefit to the mafia involved in the flour crisis (The actual crisis).
Mr Sadiq, in his detailed response, has also highlighted an important matter and raised questions who released the wheat stock and how the flourmills were awarded quota, which was not proportionate to the population of their districts. Instead of tracing the audit trail of a crime purported in the broad day light, the committee conveniently “contended and confined itself” to an area, which proved source of strategic strength.
“Interestingly, soon after the closure of wheat procurement campaign 2019-20, certain malpractices of very sinister nature came into my knowledge which were duly brought into knowledge of higher up (Annex-M). Directions to attend audit paras that ran into thousands, coupled with unearthing of the rebate on export of wheat, which was never exported but on papers as no money trail in foreign exchange/USD through banking channels could be traced, was something that triggered my sudden transfer. Whenever a secretary tries to figure out these criminal “unchartered waters”, he would meet the same fate as the continual disruption in the normal business of governance creates environment conducive to such mafia to exploit situation in one way and when that avenue is closed to resurface in another form. That is why and that is how we see scam after scam with no credible deterrence for these unscrupulous elements in an institutionalised way”, said Mr Sadiq in his detailed reply.
Explaining the reason of flour crisis in the country the former food secretary says, “The crisis of flour was to be deliberately confused with wheat to provide leeway to the mafia to go scot-free as the crisis was that of the availability of flour and not of the wheat at the ‘doorsteps’ of the Food Department, Punjab. This is further augmented by the fact that the Food Department, Punjab started releasing wheat right from August 2019, which was followed by continuous unprecedented releases, possible obviously if they had enough wheat stock with them. The quota of flourmills was also not in proportion to the populations of those respective districts and here the punch line lies. Instead of tracing the audit trail of a crime purported in the broad day light, the Committee conveniently “contended and confined itself” to an area, which proved source of strategic strength even after having enjoyed malpractices by the mafia in the form of smuggling of wheat procured from the Food Department, Punjab, on government controlled rates, on the pretext of grinding through skyrocketed releases to districts in the Punjab disproportionate to their population. Another premise relied in the report that all provinces depend on Punjab government is itself rebutted by report when it highlighted the failures of KP, Sindh and Balochistan governments to lift allocated stocks from Passco that ensured “maintenance” of the flour crisis. That is why the committee surreptitiously moved away from mentioning the status of stock of wheat and the flour available with the flourmills in the Punjab when they were released the wheat form Food Department, Punjab in huge quantities. The truth is not hard to reach at through the prejudice and deliberate connivance, employed to save the skin of the mafia involved in this heinous crime”.
According to former food secretary, the inquiry committee members had ulterior motives and they also lacked the competence to understand the technical issues related to wheat procurement operations.
“The para 41 of the Supplementary Report admits the soaring issue of huge circular debt in the Punjab and Sindh etc., which was the chief reason of export of wheat in the past before my becoming Secretary Food. How come the vicious cycle that was hurting the public interest and had to be broken at that time, should have become preferred option now as suggested by the report whereas at another place, the same report contradicts this postulation (Para 74 (b)(vi), Page 23) and recommends `addressing the issue of debt accumulation as currently the debt incurred by Punjab is more than Rs322 billion! This speaks volume about the ulterior motives behind the report and the competency level of committee members to undertake such a technical endeavour”, said Mr Sadiq.
“It must be noted here that procurement and export of wheat by the public sector works as double jeopardy for the public exchequer. The wheat is procured on support price for which loans from commercial banks are obtained on mark-up. Support price is given as market price is less than the production price and holding capacity of growers does not exist. However, in case of bumper crop, the stocks pile up undesirably and their retirement through export is also subsidised as the international price is less than the support price given to the growers. This was the reforms area where World Bank funded SMART programme envisaged substantive reduction of unnecessary public procurements. The observations of Finance Department, Punjab are worth noting here”, said Mr Sadiq in his detailed response to Chief Secretary, Punjab.
According to him, “Finance Department observed in the first week of April 2019 that purchase of 4 MMT of wheat shall increase the financial implication by approximately Rs32.5 billion. This in turn will increase mark-up liability on government of the Punjab, which already stands accumulated at around Rs200 billion as these wheat operations are run on commodity financing through commercial banks. Moreover, since under DLI-4(a) of the World Bank funded SMART programme, the procurement target of this year was to be capped at 3 MMT, non-compliance of the same shall also result in non-disbursement of $10 million to government of the Punjab. This will be a financial blow to the government even if the funding agency i.e. World Bank, agrees to postpone the schedule for reduction in procurement target by one year. That is how, coupled with other factors like crop failure, yet satisfactory payments to growers through wheat procurement operations, the Punjab Cabinet after having received the information of procurement of 3 MMMT by 23.05.2019 (Annex-C) decided to discontinue administrative push for rest of the wheat procurement. The committee was duly sensitised with all these aspects with documentary evidence and detailed presentation, but it preferred to skip that from its report.”
The fixation of responsibility of wheat crisis according to Naseem Sadiq is the backlash in the form of prejudice expressed in the instant reports which needs to be investigated by competent forum of law. He claims that two members of the inquiry committee including Deputy Director General Intelligence Bureau (IB) Mubarak Zeb had personal grudge with him.
“This factually incorrect information has been intentionally inserted in the report to deceive the Prime Minister of Pakistan, by deliberately building ‘a false case of some imaginary so-called failure of Punjab government in wheat procurement so that mafia behind flour crisis could go scot-free”, says Naseem Sadiq.
“After having dealt with this factually wrong and highly misleading report purely on merit, for which detailed reply on each of the word written, can be produced as I have just touched the tip of the iceberg, I want to bring into your kind notice a highly disturbing personal experience that incurred me the wrath of two of the committee members: Deputy Director General of IB, in particular. During my posting as Commissioner, D G Khan, I allotted a designated earmarked residence to honourable Judge of Special Court Anti-Corruption (Annex-N), which was under illegal possession of a Director of IB who had been transferred from there. I was pressurised to the highest possible level even through combined efforts of certain ‘allied forces’ as well so much so the said member of the inquiry committee to my utter shock and dismay demanded me to withdraw the said allotment order, “mujhy allotment cancellation order subah tak chaheye”, right after the proceedings of the committee the day I shared/submitted facts, figures, statement, documents/material with the committee members, in the instant inquiry, which I obviously had to refuse, being against the law/rules and professional ethics. The backlash in the form of prejudice expressed in the instant reports was but axiomatic, which needs to be investigated by competent forum of law. For another member of the inquiry committee whom I did not spare for certain irresponsibility in the past is also part of the history, known to many,” said Naseem Sadiq.
NEWS COVERAGE PERIOD FROM MARCH 30 TH TO APRIL 5TH 2020
PUNJAB ALLOWS OPENING OF CATTLE MARKETS
The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter March 30, 2020
The deputy commissioners in all the districts of the province had disallowed the cattle markets, that led to shortage of meat in Punjab. — Photo courtesy Matiullah/ File
LAHORE: To maintain meat supply chain during the ongoing lockdown in the province, the Punjab government has allowed functioning of all cattle markets, including the one at Shahpur Kanjran in Lahore.
Since the government in its notification for imposing lockdown on the province had not included the cattle markets among the essential service providers or departments, the deputy commissioners in all the districts of the province had disallowed the cattle markets, that led to shortage of meat in Punjab.
“It impacted Lahore’s Shahpur Kanjran cattle market that was opened on Wednesday after a special permission. But, it received a very small number of animals for sale, resulting in less slaughtering in Lahore and causing meat shortage in the city,” Lahore Division Cattle Market Management Company Manager (Operations) Jazib Saeed told Dawn.
He said it was observed on Wednesday that only cattle traders from nearby towns and villages reached Shahpur Kanjran market on the main day of its operation. So the business volume remained very low, approximately 20 per cent of the usual trade.
“Sufficient number of animals were not available [on Wednesday last] for the butchers to meet the demand. The animal count of small ruminant [goats and sheep] remained 4,100 compared to 20,000 on normal days, while large ruminants number was 1,800 as compared to 9,000 on normal days,” he explained.
Consequently, he said, the animal slaughtering at the Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company (Pamco)-operated slaughterhouse at Shahpur also remained low on Wednesday.
“Keeping in view the situation, the government realised that it may disturb the meat supply chain in the ongoing lockdown, causing problem for the people. That is why it allowed opening of the cattle markets,” Mr Saeed explained.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020
FISHERMEN PROTEST AGAINST LOCKDOWN, SEEK RELIEF
The Newspaper’s Staff ReporterMarch 30, 2020
KARACHI: Several people living in the coastal areas of Karachi on Sunday protested, drawing attention of the authorities towards joblessness of fishermen and hunger for the last seven days caused by the lockdown, said witnesses and representative of the fishermen community.
Around 200-300 people, including women and children, staged a sit-in at Benazir Bhutto Chowk in Ibrahim Hyderi.
Contingents of police and paramilitary force rushed to the spot and persuaded the residents to end the protest and assured them that their problems would be communicated to the authorities concerned for their resolution.
Mohammed Ali Shah, chairman of the Pakistan Fisher Folk, told Dawn that for seven days the people living in coastal areas, particularly fishermen, had been rendered jobless and they were suffering from shortage of essential items to feed their families, which compelled them to come out on roads.
He pointed out that there were estimated to be one million fishermen living in coastal areas of Karachi and adjoining areas who could not go to sea for fishing for last several days due to lockdown measures.
He said that fishing was only source of livelihood of the fishermen. He said that even a few fishermen who go to the sea for fishing could not earn such money to bear the cost of fuel as price of fish had been reduced significantly.
It has been stated that price of shrimps per kilogram has been reduced from Rs1,000 to Rs200.
Mr Shah said that the provincial government had announced to provide rations to the poor and the deserving people, but so far, it had not been implemented.
The PFF head said that they had submitted proposal to the authorities concerned for provision of Rs20,000 for each family of fisherman per month during the lockdown for sustaining their livelihood.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Hyderi SHO Raza Solangi appeared reluctant to provide information about the protest saying that he was performing his duty at some distance from the protest at the lockdown point in the area.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020
CHICKEN PRICE SOARS TO RS 197 IN JUST A WEEK
By RECORDER REPORT on March 30, 2020
The price of chicken meant is increasing with each passing day in the local market due to rising demand and increasing short supply. During visits to different markets on Sunday, this scribe observed that the chicken meat was being sold at Rs 195-197 as compared to the last week’s closing rate of Rs 175. When asked about the reasons behind surging prices, some meat sellers said there is no supply of chicken in the market. They were off the view that it is the prime time for earning maximum profits.
It is worth mentioning that the chicken meat price has been increased from Rs 142 to Rs 197 in just a one week and the dealers. Pakistan Poultry Association (PPA) Secretary Javed Bokhari said that no chicks are available for farmers as transportation of chicks from hatcheries to farms has been suspended by the district administration. He said that the prices of chicken have taken an upward flight in anticipation of shortage of ready chicken in the future.
On the other hand, the Punjab government on Saturday had clarified that animal feeding shops and feeding mills dealing with poultry/animal raw material, rice husk and livestock feed mills are exempted from the lockdown.
However, the Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Department (PL&DDD) spokesperson said that after announcement of the lockdown, they are being approached by the poultry feed millers and poultry farmers complaining that district administration is forcing them to close down their operations. “Even if the employees or farmers are working within the boundary wall of the mills or farms they are asked to stop working,” he claimed.
He said if the lockdown is extended and the poultry operations will be closed down. “If we start raising chicks today, the lot will be available to the market in near Ramazan or Eid-ul-Fitr. So the closure now means unavailability of chicken meat at that time,” he added. He said the PL&DDD had held a meeting with S&GAD requesting them for clearing the situation.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
FOOD PRICES REMAIN HIGH DESPITE FUEL AND COMMODITY RATES CRASH
Aamir Shafaat Khan Updated March 31, 2020
KARACHI: Consumers are yet to get any benefit in commodity prices despite Rs20 per litre cut in diesel prices and declining international rates of pulses, tea and edible oil.
Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are cashing in on an extraordinary demand for commodities during the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
Traders usually avoid talking about any price cut in the wake of low transportation cost and decline in international commodities prices, diverting attention to rising import costs in the wake of rupee’s depreciation against the dollar.
In addition to burgeoning sales of essential commodities at wholesale markets, the rush of buyers in retail markets has intensified from 3pm to 5pm especially at super stores and retail markets as buyers rush to replenish stocks at home in order to avoid visiting markets during the lockdown.
The average prices of pulses in 8MFY20 fell to $496 per tonne from $540 but wholesalers have pushed up the prices in the domestic markets. Wholesalers have increased prices amid heavy buying from welfare trusts, upper class and industrialists, who are buying bulk quantities to distribute ration among unemployed and daily-wager earners.
Prices of per kg wholesale gram pulse rose to Rs145 from Rs130 followed by masoor to Rs150 from Rs100 per kg. Moong price swelled to Rs250 from Rs210 per kg, while the mash price increased to Rs200 from Rs165 per kg.
Pulses imports during the July-Feb FY20 period stood at 754,885 tonnes ($375 million) as compared to 659,459 tonnes ($356.6m) in the same period last fiscal year, data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics showed.
Karachi Wholesalers Grocers Association (KWGA) Chairman Anis Majeed said he cannot share price of pulses as the commodity remained in short supply after law enforcement agencies repeatedly detained vehicles at Karachi’s entry points which were arriving from Hyderabad and up country.
“Our sales of rice, sugar and pulses are up by 100 per cent because of extensive buying by welfare organisations, industries and rich people etc for providing ration to the needy families.” Pulses prices had mainly surged on soaring demand, he added.
The government on Monday had extended another relief to pulses importers by bringing down advance tax on import to zero from 2pc.
Volatile exchange rate continues to offset the benefit of low diesel prices and falling global commodity prices and that would even dilute the impact of zero advance tax on import of pulses, Anis said while claiming that transporters had also not reduced their fares.
He said transporters are also facing labor shortage as many of them had already returned to their native areas after coronavirus. Despite a drop in diesel prices, transporters are charging higher fares from wholesalers.
The average world palm oil price dropped to $587 per tonne from $604 but ghee and cooking oil prices have remained high during the last eight months. Palm oil imports in 8MFY20 stood at 2.012m tonnes ($1.182 billion) as compared to 2.044m tonnes ($1.23bn) in the same period last fiscal year.
To bring down prices, the government on Monday exempted additional customs duty of 2pc on palm oil imports.
Pakistan Vanaspati Manufacturers Association (PVMA) former vice chairman Sheikh Umer Rehan said the palm oil prices in the international market have risen to $615 per tonne from $550 per tonne in the last 10 days after buying from China resumed.
He calculated a jump of Rs20 per kg/litre in ghee and cooking oil prices as a result of rupee depreciation against the dollar and increase in international palm oil prices.
Umer said that bringing down tax on import of palm oil to zero from 2pc would not have any significant impact on domestic prices of ghee and cooking oil.
Local tea prices maintained an upward trend despite decline in world average prices to $2,405 per tonne from $2,632 in 8MFY19. Total tea imports in the last eight months fell to 134,853 tonnes ($324m) from 149,510 tonnes ($393m).
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020
‘SINDH TO GET BUMPER WHEAT CROP THIS YEAR DESPITE ODDS’
The Newspaper’s Correspondent March 31, 2020
LARKANA: Though recent spells of rains and hailstorm have inflicted damage on the harvested and mature crop of wheat in Larkana division, Sindh will get a bumper crop and a shortage of wheat or flour is unlikely in the lockdown-hit province.
This was stated by Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) Larkana president Siraj-ul-Oliya Rashdi while speaking to Dawn on Monday.
He said wheat, according to the estimates of 2019, was cultivated on 220,000 acres of land in Larkana and Qambar-Shahdadkot districts. He did not agree with the notion that locust swarms’ attacks in the early cultivation period had caused any remarkable damage to the crop.
About Sindh government’s official procurement price of Rs1,400/40kg, he said despite announcement having been made for procurement, not a single procurement centre had been established as yet.
‘Growers were facing a difficult situation, as they could not transport the stocks to the market due to lockdown and tightened restrictions by the police.’
Currently traders were offering Rs1,300-1400/40kg, thereby leaving little attraction for growers to go to the procurement centres, he said. However, reports collected from markets indicated that piles of harvested crop in the kutcha belt and other wheat-growing areas were looking for transport means to reach market.
Altaf Metlo, a trader in the New Anaj Mandi [grain market] said growers were facing a difficult situation, as they could not transport the stocks to the market due to lockdown and tightened restrictions by the police.
“They keep on calling us where to go as the delay will prove problematic for them,” he said. How they could repay their bank loans and advances they had traditionally obtained from the businessmen dealing in wheat trade in markets, he asked.
Growers were surviving under heavy loans which they had to clear in the specified period and in case of failure they would bear the brunt of interest on their loans, he pointed out.
“A ban has been placed on the inter-district transportation of wheat owing to which private purchasing price of the commodity has come down from Rs1,550/40kg to Rs1,350/40kg, claimed Mr Rashdi. He expected a three million tonnes wheat yield in Sindh this year, and foresaw no shortage in the days to come.
About vegetables which traders were purchasing at lower rates from growers but selling in market at higher rates in these days of lockdown, he said it was quite uncalled for. “Growers sell fresh coriander at the rate of Rs10 per kilo while traders sell it in market at Rs50-60 a kilo. Tomatoes are being sold at Rs30 per kilo whereas it is purchased from growers at Rs10 per kilo.”
He alleged that traders were purchasing wheat at lower rate but selling flour at Rs60 per kilo which was not justifiable. He, however, was unsure about stability in the prices of onion.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020
SCA SLAMS BAN ON WHEAT MOVEMENT IN PROVINCE
The Newspaper’s Staff Correspondent March 31, 2020
HYDERABAD: Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) has condemned Sindh government’s decision of imposing a ban on inter-district movement of wheat crop as ill-advised.
In a statement issued here on Monday, SCA senior vice president Nabi Bux Sathio said that the decision gave an impression that it was taken at the behest of corrupt food officials to compel growers to sell their produce to traders at a lower rate. He apprehended that the crop would then be procured from traders by food department.
He said that before imposition of the ban, wheat was selling in market at Rs1,550-Rs1,600 per 40kg and now the rate had dropped to Rs1,250-Rs1,300 per 40kg.
Mr Sathio said like in the past growers did not get gunny bags from food department during the procurement process which caused trouble to them. He said now an inadequate rate was being offered by traders to cause heavy loss to growers.
He recalled that whenever farmers demanded imposition of a ban under Section 144 of the CrPC on movement of sugar-cane crop from Punjab to Sindh during crushing season, the provincial government always opposed it by arguing that a ban could not be imposed on food supplies as it was considered rights violation.
The SCA leader asked that why the food supply was banned now in Sindh.
He said that the Sindh government was procuring a small quantum of the total wheat crop leaving the rest of it for sale in the open market which had resulted in the drastic fall of wheat price. He deplored that after purchasing the crop from growers, traders would sell it to food department at Rs1,700-Rs1,800 per 40kg in the open market later.
He urged Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to order immediate lifting of the ban on wheat movement.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020
ABSENCE OF GROWERS MAY DELAY COTTON SOWING
By RECORDER REPORT on March 31, 2020
In the absence of required number of farmers and growers in the field may cause delay in cotton sowing, leading sources informed on phone on Monday. The official spot rate was unchanged at Rs8800, dealer said.
Rate of seed cotton per 40kg in Sindh low quality was at Rs2800, while the best quality was unchanged at Rs4100, and in the Punjab prices of low quality were at Rs2800 while the fine type was available at Rs4600, they said.
In Sindh, Binola prices per maund were at Rs1400-1800, in Punjab rates were at Rs1650-1800, they said and the rate of polyester fibre was at Rs167 per kg, they added.
Commenting on the negative impact of spread of coronavirus on cotton production, cotton analyst, Naseem Usman said that season of wheat harvesting started but works are still delaying. This is a factor, keeping ginners under pressure, he observed.
According to the Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA), the cotton ginners, who are holding a huge stock but no buyer in the market, requesting the government to exempt cotton ginner’s mark up from March 1st till July 2020.
Cotton production is short of demand, despite this factor demand nor prices picking up, both locally and globally, he said.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
NO BAN ON MOVEMENT OF ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES EXCEPT WHEAT: SINDH GOVERNMENT
BR Web Desk April 01, 2020
Taking notice of rice exporters’ complaints, Sindh government has made it clear that there is no ban on the movement of essential food commodities except transportation of wheat which is being regulated by the Sindh Food department.
Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) Chairman Shahjahan Malik told Business Recorder here on Tuesday that the exporters were facing hardships due to the impounding of trucks carrying rice bags. They were facing such issues, especially in Larkana district which is famous for coarse rice production and zero percent of coarse variety is exported by Sindh province. Sindh had imposed a ban on transportation after the coronavirus outbreak.
The notification F.P/Corona-2019/Misc/2020 issued by the Home department, Government of Sindh, stated that it has been brought in the notice of authorities that trucks carrying rice bags originating/transiting Larkana division are being stopped. So the notification clarified that there is no ban on movement of essential commodities.
Shahjahan Malik said very little quantity of coarse rice produced in Sindh is consumed by the province and 90 percent of it is exported. He said at this time when the whole world is in lockdown, Pakistan is left with rice which can be exported and earn precious foreign exchange.
He said the REAP took up the issue with the authorities concerned and the Sindh government had issued the clarification solving the issue amicably before it is too late to mend.
REAP chairman thanked the Sindh authorities for issuing the clarification. He said that the rice exporters are committed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the government in this hour of trial and will perform their duties. However, he said that such issues hamper our efforts to multiply the rice exports in the next few years from the present mark of just over US 2 billion dollars per annum.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
FAO, WHO & WTO WARN OF WORLDWIDE FOOD SHORTAGE
AFP Updated April 02, 2020
PARIS: The heads of three global agencies warned on Wednesday of a potential worldwide food shortage if authorities fail to manage the ongoing coronavirus crisis properly.
Many governments around the world have put their populations on lockdown to slow the spread of the virus but that has resulted in severe slow-downs in international trade and food supply chains.
Meanwhile panic buying by people going into isolation has already demonstrated the fragility of supply chains as supermarket shelves emptied in many countries.
“Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market,” said the joint text signed by Qu Dongyu, head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Roberto Azevedo, director of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
That is not an idle threat. After the 2007 global financial crisis, rice producing countries India and Vietnam restricted exports to ward off expected price increases. The result: food riots in several developing countries as the price of rice soared.
The warning could be directed at Russia as officials there have mulled restricting wheat exports and have already tapped the nation’s reserves to ensure prices don’t jump.
“In the midst of the Covid-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage(s)” from developing, the joint statement said.
“When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain,” it added.
Over the longer term, confinement orders and travel restrictions risk causing disruptions in agricultural production due to the unavailability of agricultural labour and the inability to get food to markets.
“Such disruptions including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste,” the three leaders noted.
Closing borders has exposed just how much certain countries are dependant upon foreign workers to bring in crops.
Unless solutions are found quickly the lack of seasonal farm labourers from Mexico puts the production of many crops in the United States at risk. In Western Europe the absence of workers from North Africa and Eastern Europe could produce a similar result.
“We are just at the start of this crisis,” said FAO senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian, who judged it to be one more of transport and logistics rather than production.
He believes what happens in India, which is under a nationwide lockdown for another two weeks, will be key given the size of its population and role as an exporter. “Harvests are beginning in several weeks, the fluid movement of goods must be assured,” he said.
The FAO, WHO and WTO leaders also stressed the need to protect employees engaged in food production, processing and distribution, both for their own health and that of others, as well as to maintain food supply chains.
Supermarket cashiers are among those who have succumbed to the virus in Italy and France, where some workers have staged walkouts over the lack of measures and equipment to protect them.
Upscale Whole Foods Markets in the United States is also facing work stoppages.
The last few years have seen international cooperation wilt, with US President Donald Trump snubbing international agreements and institutions and launching trade wars.
But the FAO, WHO and WTO said working together is needed to avoid food shortages brought on by measures to combat the novel coronavirus.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2020
GOVT HAS FAILED TO PROVIDE GUNNY BAGS, COMPLAIN WHEAT GROWERS
The Newspaper’s Correspondent April 02, 2020
DADU: Though over a week has passed since the lockdown implemented by the Sindh government to contain the coronavirus pandemic, officials have failed to distribute gunny bags among growers and devise any strategy for procuring wheat from them.
Sindh had a bumper crop of wheat, but the recent rains and hailstorms have affected the produce, they complained.
If the food department delays purchase of wheat, the commodity lying in the field would be affected and the growers would face huge losses.
Growers complain that food officials were neither providing them gunny bags nor buying the commodity from them.
Sindh Abadgar Board Dadu chapter president Mohammad Umer Jamali said that 30 million maunds of wheat was lying stocked in Radhan, Nau Goath, Moundar, Jhallo, Purano Deero, Thrari Mohabbat, Fareedabad, Mehar, KN Shah and other areas of Dadu district.
Speaking to Dawn, he said that in some areas wheat was being harvested, but still procurement was not started by the food department.
A small grower of Pipri, Aftab Ahmed Bhand, said that food department officials had not provided gunny bags to growers.
District food controller Allah Warayo said that 0.9 million bags of wheat was the target fixed by the food department at Rs3,500 per 100kg bag.
Speaking to Dawn, he said that total 38 wheat procurement centres were established in the district. He said that within seven days, gunny bags would be provided to the wheat growers and purchasing would be started.
A leader of small growers association of Sehwan, Fazal Hussain Jamali, complained to this reporter that people had started reaping their crop in different parts of Jamshoro district. He added that procurement centres were not established in the district.
Food officials were purchasing wheat from big and influential landlords, he said, adding that small growers were selling their commodity to local traders at Rs3,000 to Rs3,100 per 100kg bag.
Food department Hyderabad region deputy director Zahid Baloch told Dawn that the target of 3.1m bags of wheat was fixed for Hyderabad region to be purchased from growers. But still purchase of wheat was not started in Hyderabad, Badin, Thatta, Tando Allahyar, Tando Mohammad Khan, Matiari, Dadu and Jamshoro districts, he said.
The Sindh government, he said, had started to supply gunny bags to food officials and wheat procurement centres were set up in all parts of the region, though offices were closed due to lockdown situation. He said that within a few days, wheat procurement would be started.
A grower of Qambar-Shahdadkot, Shah Mohammad Mugheri, said that despite the lockdown, food officials were in contact with big landlords and political bigwigs of the district like Chandio and Magsi tribal chiefs to purchase wheat from them.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2020
FISHERMEN LIVING ON ISLANDS ALONG THATTA COASTLINE FACE STARVATION
Ghulam Hussain Khawaja April 03, 2020
THATTA: A large population of fishing community living on 27 small islands between Hajamiro creek and deltaic area along Arabian Sea in Thatta district are finding it increasingly difficult to make both ends meet because of closure of fish markets during ongoing province-wide lockdown.
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum chairman Mohammad Ali Shah told Dawn that fishing communities in coastal areas of Thatta, Badin, Sujawal, Karachi, Shah Bandar, Jaati, Kharo Chhaan and Golarchi were facing starvation since fish markets were closed and the catch was rotting in the absence of buyers.
Coastal Community Organisation chairman Ameer Bux Jatt said the situation for fishermen was getting from bad to worse with each passing day. The government should provide a reasonable relief package to the vulnerable community to help them survive the difficult times, he said.
Local fishermen leaders Aslam Jatt, Noor Jatt, Ghani Katyar and others said that hundreds of owners of fishing vessels had already sustained huge losses as they had brought catch from deep sea about 10 days back prior to imposition of lockdown and could not sell it off because of closure of fish markets in Karachi, Hyderabad and local towns.
They suggested that if the government allowed at least one fisherman with a crew member to run small boats for fishing, it would help them carry on with their life and they would not have to look for donation to feed their starving families.
They said that lately, it had already become very difficult for the community to survive due to fast shrinking catch caused by government’s ban on different types of fishing nets, special facilities extended to foreign deep-sea trawlers and lack of freshwater released downstream Kotri to rejuvenate mangrove forests which hosted nurseries of fish and shrimp.
They said that they realised that Pakistan was equally facing coronavirus catastrophe like the rest of the world and the government was taking adequate steps to overcome the virus. But the authorities should also feel misery of fishermen and help them make both ends meet during the growing humanitarian crisis.
Thatta Deputy Commissioner Usman Tanveer said that the ban on fishing in coastal areas had been imposed under recent directives of federal government.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020
WHEAT HARVESTING: PUNJAB GOVT TO ALLOW TRANSPORTATION OF AGRI EQUIPMENT, MACHINERY
BR Web Desk April 03, 2020
In order to provide relief to the farmers for harvesting of wheat crop, the Punjab government has decided to allow transportation of agriculture equipment and machinery across the province.
Similarly, the transportation of cement and soda ash has also been allowed for construction sector, sources in the civil secretariat disclosed on Wednesday.
Punjab Chief Secretary Punjab Azam Suleman Khan has ordered to exempt these items from the restrictions imposed under section 144 to contain spread of coronavirus in the province.
According to the sources, “In view of wheat harvest season, the movement of equipment and machinery related to agriculture sector has been permitted but the labour to be engaged for harvesting will have to follow the laid down standard operating procedures (SOPs).” The Punjab home department has issued notification in this regard.
The Punjab government had constituted committees at district level across the province to ensure availability of personal protection equipment (PPEs) for doctors, paramedics and other staff treating coronavirus patients. The committee will be comprised of representative of deputy commissioner, army officials, medical superintendent (MS) of hospitals and chief executive officers (CEO) of district health authority. It will monitor inventory and consumption of PPEs on daily basis and will be bound to send report to the CS office.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020
AGRI SECTOR NEGLECTED DESPITE ITS GROWING IMPORTANCE
By Salman Siddiqui Published: April 4, 2020
KARACHI: The agriculture sector has become much more important ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. It does not only ensure food security, but also remains the largest source of employment in Pakistan.
However, the government has done very little to make it sustainable despite its increasing significance in the wake of the pandemic, and has announced billions of rupees worth of packages to protect industries only.
“The government has allocated Rs280 billion to procure wheat and at the same time announced relief packages worth billions to protect industries. There is, however, no package for the agriculture sector as the government earmarks funds for wheat procurement every year,” said Sindh Abadgar Board Vice President Syed Mahmood Nawaz Shah while talking to The Express Tribune.
“What are the unique incentives announced by the government for the agriculture sector during these difficult times. There is almost nothing,” he remarked.
The government needs to pay special attention to the sector as it can help attract export earnings in the medium to long run as major export sectors, including the largest textile industry, are receiving order postponement calls from international buyers.
The share of agriculture stands at around 20% in the gross domestic product (GDP) of Pakistan. It provides direct employment to around 42% of the total workforce of 55-60 million.
Farmers and their produce, especially the perishable vegetables and fruits, have been badly impacted since the virus outbreak in the country early last month. Farmers are selling wheat at lower than the minimum support price of Rs1,400 per 40 kg.
The government has yet to begin the official procurement drive while the staple crop is ready for harvest in Sindh.
“On an immediate basis, the government needs to stabilise prices of commodities at fairly higher levels against a steep fall recorded in recent days and weeks,” he said.
“In the medium to long run, it needs to build and strengthen the storage and supply chain infrastructure to turn agriculture into a sustainable sector for the sake of food security in the country and export to global markets,” he said.
The world can abandon the purchase of non-essential goods and services but it cannot live without food. Pakistan has an opportunity to play its role in this regard.
“Agriculture remains the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. It is high time that attention is paid to addressing the grave issues like streamlining cotton production and increase in wheat output, which are potential export commodities,” he said.
Lack of storages was one of the many causes that led to the increase in tomato prices to Rs200-300 per kg in the recent past.
“Disruption to the already poorly managed food supply chain has caused a massive reduction in commodities’ prices. This has directly hurt poor farmers and their little income,” he said.
“The situation may worsen if supply chain management does not improve over the next 8-10 days. Farmers are selling commodities, including the staple crop of wheat, below cost,” he said.
What the government should immediately do was to ensure food security and protect employment in the sector “by stabilising prices at rational (upside) levels,” he said.
The prices of tomato, chili, turnip (shalgam) and cabbage (gobi) have reduced by up to 50-60% at farm level in the recent days. “Farmers are selling tomatoes at Rs40-50/ per 12kg sack compared to Rs100-200, depending upon quality, before the virus outbreak in the country. Similarly, they are selling chili at Rs1,200-1,700 per 60kg bag compared to Rs5,000-7,000 earlier.”
According to the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) report 2019, Shah said, there is available storage capacity for less than one million ton (or 10%) for vegetable and fruits against their estimated production stand at around 15 million ton per year. “We need to increase the storage to 40-60% to ensure food security,” he added.
The per acre agriculture output has remained one of the lowest in the world. The government needs to fix it by providing quality seeds, fertiliser and pests at fair prices and on the right time. Besides, it needs to adopt drip irrigation and other methods to best utilise available water, as 80% off the water goes into agriculture while almost 50% of that goes into wastage due to the water mismanagement.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2020.
PROCUREMENT SHORTFALL LED TO WHEAT CRISIS: REPORT
Khurram Husain Updated April 05, 2020
KARACHI: Poor procurement effort led to the wheat crisis in December and January, the inquiry committee looking into the causes of the price spiral in the staple food product says. “At the outset, the committee noticed that the public procurement of wheat fell short by a whopping 2.5 million tonnes, 35 per cent less than the target” the report says.
The report shows that Sindh procured zero tonnes where its target was one million tonnes, and Punjab procured 3.315m tonnes where its target was four million tonnes. The federal effort is led by the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) and it procured 0.679 tonnes of wheat against a target of 1.1mn tonnes.
“Other factors fuelling the wheat crisis were contributing factors.”
The inquiry committee was constituted on Jan 22 on order of the prime minister to look into the causes of the wheat price spiral that gripped the country in December. It had three members, with the FIA DG as its convener.
The shortfalls in procurement aggravated an already tight supply position in the country, the report says. Carry-forward stocks from the previous year as well as production in the fiscal year 2019 were the lowest in five years, coming in at 3.777m tonnes and 24.479m tonnes, respectively.
In such a situation, the authors say, Passco should have been ordered to raise its procurement target. Passco’s own carry over stocks, at 1.33m tonnes were the lowest they had been in five years in 2019 when procurement began, and called for a higher procurement target as well as more vigorous effort to build its reserve to 2.5m tonnes, which is the lowest they had been at for the previous two years when all procurement targets were met.
“Instead Passco unusually failed to meet its procurement target by a margin of 40pc” the report finds. “Surprisingly the Ministry kept telling the ECC in May and June 2019 that Passco had met its procurement targets.”
Not only that, the Ministry National Food Security and Research (MNSF&R), which oversees Passco, also recommended to the government that the wheat stock position is comfortable and exports should be allowed. “The ministry failed to grasp the market situation” of tight supply position due to low carry over stocks from the previous year, low crop production in current year, and poor procurement effort. “[A]s such their recommendations to Federal government were routine and misleading”.
The report holds then Secretary of MNFS&R Hashim Popalzai, former MD of Passco Muhammad Khan Khichi responsible for this.
In Punjab the report finds that the procurement effort was hobbled by high turnover in the food department, which saw four secretaries rotate through the office in one year, and all District Food Controllers were rotated thrice in the same year. The procurement effort began 20 days late, and the food department “failed to exercise control on flour mills which resorted to profiteering campaign as they sensed the government was ill-prepared to handle the wheat demand and supply chain.”
Wheat pilferage increased and the government lost control over wheat supply situation as private and government stocks “started heading in every direction, without being accounted for”.
The report blames former Food Secretary, Government of Punjab, Naseem Sadiq and former Director Food Dr Zafar Iqbal for these serious lapses. It also cites provincial minister food, Samiullah Chaudhry, for “not devising any reform agenda to address the chronic ailments” in the food department.
In Sindh, where the wheat crisis actually began before spreading to the rest of the country, the report says the provincial authorities could not furnish any explanation for why they decided to not carry out any procurement at all. The Sindh government claimed to have 0.8m tonnes of wheat in stock, but the report says these were afflicted with “massive pilferage and theft”.
“The Food Department Sindh failed to intervene in the market early when the prices of wheat started rising as early as August 2019” the report says, and delayed releasing wheat from its stocks till October, giving hoarders a virtual free pass.
Responsibility for the decision to not procure any wheat could not be fixed individually, the report says, “because the decision was not taken by the cabinet.”
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2020
GOVERNMENTS, BODY OF FLOUR MILLS HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR WHEAT/FLOUR CRISIS
BR Web Desk April 05, 2020
The inquiry committee on wheat headed by the Director General FIA, has held Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R) and Provincial governments and Flour Mills Association responsible for wheat/ flour crisis in the country.
According to the report, Passco failed to meet its procurement target and fell short by 0.42 million tons in a year where the national carry- forward stocks remained the lowest during the last five years. For this failure, the Secretary MNFS&R and incumbent MD Passco during the procurement season have been held responsible.
The Ministry’s decision to allow the export of other wheat products like Maida and Suji on August 7, 2019 is “inexplicable” and the Secretary MNFS&R could not defend it by giving any plausible explanation of relaxing this ban. All wheat products are exported under the same code in the system of FBR and it is very difficult for even customs officers to say that wheat was exported in the grab of fine Atta and Maida. The export figures for the period August 2019 till date are however low as only 21,885 MT was exported.
The Ministry failed to timely advice the federal government for import of wheat, a policy intervention that could have effectively discouraged speculations, hoarding and profiteering that subsequently fuelled wheat shortage and price hikes.
According to the report, Punjab Food Department delayed procurement by crucial 20-22 days and ultimately failed to meet its procurement target by 0.67 million tons less in a year whereas its carry-forward stock remained the lowest during the last five years. The Punjab Food Department failed to exercise control on flourmills which resorted to profiteering campaign as they sensed the government was ill-prepared to handle the wheat demand and supply chain. A simple survey by ACE Punjab has indentified some mill owners who are involved in malpractices. Post audit of flourmills, specially those involved in such practices, needs to be conducted.
Punjab Food Department allowed, with its “tacit” approval, the poultry feed mills to purchase huge quantities of wheat from private market.
The responsibility for failure to meet procurement target lies with ex-Food Secretary, Naseem Sadiq and ex-Director Food Punjab, Dr. Zafar Iqbal, according to the report.
The responsibility for failure to procure wheat in Sindh cannot be fixed individually as the decision on summary to procure wheat was not taken by the Cabinet.
The Food Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa failed to meet its procurement target for the last two years. The respons