Govt to announce wheat support price this week, NA body told

ISLAMABAD: The government is expected to announce the minimum wheat support price for 2020-21 crop in the next few days, National Food Security and Research Secretary Omar Hameed Khan informed the National Assembly Standing Committee on National Food Security on Tuesday.

MNA Rao Ajmal Khan, who chaired the meeting, was of the view that the minimum support price should be fixed at Rs1,800 or Rs1,900 per 40kg keeping in view experiences from the current wheat crisis.

He demanded the government to announce the support price without any delay, saying that an early announcement of the support price would help farmers know how much wheat they need to sow based on the seed availability.

“The government must realise that the wheat sowing season starts from October 10, and if the support price is announced by mid-October, farmers will opt for other crops, which will ultimately lead to a new wheat crisis,” he stated.

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Secretary Hameed Khan informed the committee that the price mechanism has been developed by the Agriculture Policy Institute in consultation with all stakeholders and keeping in mind recommendations of the standing committee.

Meanwhile, the committee asked the Ministry of National Food Security to ensure the availability of quality hybrid seeds of cotton in the markets to enhance its per acre production. It expressed concern that growers could not be facilitated through the government’s subsidy on fertilizers, directing the ministry to take stringent measures to support small growers.

Earlier, National Food Security and Research Minister Syed Fakhr Imam briefed the committee about the current wheat and cotton position, saying that major factor for low output of crops was outdated seed technology, adding that climate change has also caused substantial damage to this year’s agriculture production.

Punjab and Sindh were the most affected provinces in the wake of recent rains, which also was a big reason the country couldn’t achieve the production targets of some crops, he said.

Imam cautiously estimated that the torrential rains and flood have damaged over 500,000 bales of cotton in Sindh and Punjab.

He informed the committee that the major issues for not achieving the cotton production target were the quality of seed quality and white fly attacks. “Subsidy on white fly pesticides has started, the experts of our ministry are continuously working on it and we are trying to ensure transparency in this regard.”

During its lengthy deliberations discussing the entire gambit of the agriculture sector, the committee members urged the government to take serious measures for provision of certified cotton seed, fearing that like previous years, the cotton production this year would also show declining trends.

Moreover, the committee heard FIA DG Wajid Zia on the outcome of the sugar and wheat commission. He said as a follow-up, NAB has started investigation on sugar subsidy whereas FIA initiated investigation into sugar export in light of the findings of the report.  The SECP was also conducting investigation on the sugar scam, he said, adding that the government wants these agencies to submit their reports within 90 days.

To tackle the weaknesses as pointed out in the commission reports, Zia said that the government has set up a committee under Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar to bring reforms in sugar policy. On this, the committee chairman regretted that even five months after the submission of reports, no significant improvement has been seen in the prices of sugar and wheat.

Lastly, the committee unanimously recommended that the ‘Chamber of Agriculture Bill, 2019” (Private Member Bill) may be passed.

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Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]
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