Pakistan Punjab Govt announces ‘vague’ wheat procurement policy amid crisis, farmer protests

The long-awaited policy statement came to the Punjab Assembly after a three-hour delay and placed the blame for the current predicament squarely on the previous caretaker government’s decisions. Food Minister Bilal Yasin accused the interim setup of being “responsible for this crisis” by importing wheat close to the harvesting season.

Amidst allegations of causing a “wheat crisis” in the province, the Punjab government on Tuesday unveiled a vague wheat procurement policy that failed to specify a date for initiating the grain purchase drive, drawing sharp criticism from farmers and opposition parties.

The long-awaited policy statement came to the Punjab Assembly after a three-hour delay and placed the blame for the current predicament squarely on the previous caretaker government’s decisions. Food Minister Bilal Yasin accused the interim setup of being “responsible for this crisis” by importing wheat close to the harvesting season.

“Those who imported wheat [close to the harvesting season] are responsible for this crisis. However, despite this, the government will fully support the small farmers,” Yasin said while stopping short of elaborating on the exact mode and timeframe for extending support.

The minister promised a fact-finding probe into the wheat imports, vowing to table the report in the assembly. He also stated that the procurement would commence once the grain’s moisture content decreased from the current 16% to 10% following a recent spell of rain.

However, the policy’s lack of clarity and firm commitments drew scathing criticism from opposition parties and farmers who have been protesting for weeks, demanding the procurement of their crop at the government-announced support price of Rs 3,900 per 40kg.

The opposition legislators accused the ruling dispensation of offering no concrete relief to the aggrieved farmers, many of whom have been forced to sell their produce at lower rates due to the delayed procurement. They staged a sit-in protest on Mall Road after the speaker adjourned the assembly session indefinitely without allowing a debate on the issue.

Compounding the crisis, the government has also reduced its wheat procurement target from over 4 million tonnes to a little over 2 million tonnes, further fueling concerns about potential shortages and inflationary pressures.

While the cabinet approved the introduction of ‘Kissan cards’ during its meeting, it remained indecisive on the proposed subsidy for “small farmers” whose grain may not be purchased. The proposal under consideration involves providing a subsidy of Rs 400-600 per 40kg to growers who applied for procurement through the Kissan app but were excluded.

In the courtroom, the Lahore High Court also took up the matter, ordering the Punjab government to provide details of the cabinet’s decision on wheat procurement. Justice Shahid Karim, while hearing a petition seeking directives for the government to buy wheat from farmers, clarified that the court would not interfere in policy matters but wanted to understand the cabinet’s stance.

The continued uncertainty and indecisiveness surrounding the wheat procurement policy have significant implications for all stakeholders involved and the broader economy.

For farmers, the delays and lack of clarity mean lingering uncertainty over when and at what price they can sell their crop, impacting their income and ability to plan for the next sowing season. Farmer unions have warned of intensifying protests if the government fails to address their grievances promptly.

Moreover, if the supply crunch persists, it risks fueling food inflation and placing further strain on household budgets already burdened by rising costs of essentials. A shortage of wheat, a staple crop, could also disrupt supply chains for associated food products, leading to potential shortages and price hikes.

The government’s mismanagement of the wheat procurement crisis could have ripple effects across various sectors, hampering economic growth prospects. They urge swift and decisive action to address the issue before it spirals into a broader crisis with severe consequences for food security, social stability, and economic progress in the province.