Country importing wheat worth $2 billion annually: Tariq Cheema

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Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Tariq Bashir Cheema on Friday said that now Pakistan is importing wheat worth $2 billion annually, at one time, Pakistan used to export wheat.

Addressing a press conference here, he said that this time “we have to import 2.6 million tons of wheat from Russia, out of which we have received 1.3 million tons.The minister said that after the decision of the review committee, the government has decided to import 2.6 million tons of wheat this year.

He said that the government had stored 1.8 tons of wheat in the Strategic Reserve last year, which will contain 1.5 million this year.

The minister said that there is no shortage of wheat/flour anywhere in the country, “we have wheat in abundance and the provinces have also been asked to tell how much wheat they want.”

He said that provinces including Punjab are not releasing wheat; they are getting wheat as per requirement.

Tariq Cheema said that the shortage of wheat in the country and noise about prices is unnecessary and the government is ready to face all kinds of challenges.

He said that after the 18th amendment, agricultural commodities including wheat are the issue of provincial governments.

He said that all the provinces including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are getting quota wheat and there is no shortage of wheat anywhere in the country. The minister said that when provincial governments released wheat from the provinces, the prices of flour in the country decreased. He said that Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation Ltd (PASSCO) does the procurement of wheat and all the provinces also deal with it in terms of wheat.

Replying to a question, he said that efforts were being made to reduce the reliance on imported food commodities, and enhance the local output of food commodities, including that of wheat and oil seeds as edible oil imports swelled to $ 4.5 billion during last year and wheat imports to $ 2 billion. He said that a strategy was being devised for stabilizing flour prices to ensure the provision of flour at affordable rates.

“The shortfall is being fulfilled by purchasing the commodity from the open market, due to which we faced price fluctuation”, he said adding “the government has also established about 38 sale points to provide wheat flour to the lower income groups.”

The government was also inspecting the grinding capacity of flour mills in order to operate them to their optimal capacity to produce sufficient quantities of flour to meet local needs, he added. The minister further said that out of the total procurements, the government was procuring about 20 to 21 percent of the total wheat produced, whereas the remaining 80 percent was procured by the private sector. He said that it was needed to streamline the price differential to maintain prices. He said that last year wheat support price was fixed at Rs 2,200 and this year it was proposed to be fixed at Rs 3,000 per 40 kg, adding that the governments of Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suggested fixing the support price at Rs 3,000 per 40 kg. However, Sindh has fixed the support price at Rs 4,000.