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Federal Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin on Monday underscored the need to build six million metric tons of strategic wheat reserves, as the total public sector stocks depleted to less than three weeks of consumption level.
However, the strategic reserves will have to be built by importing the commodity due to estimated production of slightly over 26 million metric tons of wheat this year, which is already three million tons short of coming year’s total consumption requirements, according to the proceedings of the National Price Monitoring Committee (NPMC).
Tarin chaired his first meeting of the NPMC – a consultative group that did not have any legal mandate to take decisions.
The finance minister also desired to bring improvement in the reporting mechanisms of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), showing his dissatisfaction over its standards.
The meeting was informed that the total wheat stocks across the country were 647,687 metric tons as of last week, which at current consumption levels would last for hardly two-and-a-half weeks. By the end of April, the stocks would further deplete to 384,000 metric tons – the time when harvesting of the new crop will be in full swing.
Punjab’s stock was less than 400,000 metric tons, Sindh about 57,000 metric tons, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa over 58,000 metric tons and PASSCO less than 140,000 metric tons, according to the NPMC proceedings. The Balochistan government did not any stock of wheat.
Last year, the wheat production was 26 million metric tons and the country had imported 2.16 million metric tons of the commodity to fulfil the domestic wheat requirements.
The meeting was informed that for the year 2021-22, the wheat consumption is estimated at 29.3 million metric tons and the government will have to import three million metric tons to meet the country’s requirement.
The finance minister observed that in order to ensure price stability and meet the requirement, there was a need to maintain six million metric tons of wheat reserves in the country.
He underscored the importance of maintaining strategic reserves of essential commodities and directed the provincial governments and departments concerned to work out estimates and procure wheat and sugar in a smooth and timely manner, a Ministry of Finance handout stated.
For this season, provincial authorities estimated wheat production at 26 million metric tons, Food and Agriculture Organization 26.4 million metric tons and Suparco27 million metric tons. However, it has been decided that the government will use 26 million metric tons to ensure smooth supplies throughout the year.
The wheat and wheat flour prices have almost doubled since the PTI government came to power in 2018 and allowed the export of the commodity.
The provincial governments and Passco have been tasked with procuring 6.3 million metric tons of wheat from farmers that will pump Rs700 billion into the rural economy.
A finance ministry handout stated that the NPMC reviewed the price trends of essential commodities, especially wheat flour, sugar, edible ghee, chicken, eggs and vegetables, during last week.
Tarin expressed his dissatisfaction over the wheat prices reported by the PBS for Faisalabad and Quetta after the provincial governments contested the PBS claims of prevailing rates in the cities, an official said.
The minister directed the PBS to analyse the price difference and the trends in various markets.
The PBS briefed the finance minister about data collection methodology and updated him on the recent changes incorporated to reflect price variation between wholesale and retail levels across different cities.
Tarin directed the PBS to extend market coverage by including more cities and local areas including Ramazan Sasta/Sahulat Bazaars, the ministry said. The data must represent and reflect prevailing price trends accurately, the finance minister said.
Tarin also directed to review the entire supply chain from farmer to end-consumer in order to minimise the difference between wholesale and retail prices for basic commodities with a view to ensure that the farmer is well paid and the consumer gets maximum relief.
During the meeting, the finance minister sought briefing from the representatives of the provincial governments regarding efficacy of Ramazan Sasta Bazaars which have been set-up to provide maximum relief to the masses during the holy month.
He questioned the long queues outsides the Utility Stores and Sasta Bazaars, saying that it does not bode well for the government.
Tarin urged the respective provincial administrations to chalk out a firm plan for strict monitoring of prices and availability of stock of basic commodities at Ramazan Sasta Bazaars to facilitate the general public in Eid shopping which largely takes place during the last week of Ramazan.
He directed the provincial governments to keep the prices of basic commodities in check during Eid holidays.
He stressed the need to ensure availability of basic commodities at Utility Stores throughout the country and urged the people to avail benefit from Mobile Utility Stores facility amid the Covid-19 pandemic.