Notwithstanding a drastic cut in its wheat procurement target for the current season, Punjab doesn’t see any grain shortage in the near future. The provincial food department has fixed 3.5 million tonnes as the procurement target for 2020-21 against 4.5m tonnes of the last year. The food department announced procurement centers in March while the provision of gunny bags is likely to start from April 1. “We’re going to harvest 19.8m tonnes wheat this year, whereas as of today one million tonnes plus stock is available with the food department. So there is no worries about the grain shortage this year, especially when the federal government has decided to keep open the import option,” a senior Punjab official told.

“After extracting the expected wheat releases to flour mills up till the arrival of the new crop as well as the stock for the Ramazan package, the province will be having a carryover stock of over 200,000 tonnes by the time fresh grain hits the market,” he argues.

Pointing out that the procurement target has been cut on the direction of federal authorities, he defends the decision by saying that the government will need not go for early releases like in the last year when it had to issue wheat to the mills from official storages in July against the past practice of issuing this in late September or in October. Moreover, only licenced private sector parties, including flour mills and seed companies, will be allowed to enter the market after declaring their stocks.

“The mills will have to disclose their daily grinding quantity while the seed businesses will enlist the growers the companies are procuring grain for seed purposes from. No third party other than these will be allowed to make the purchases until and unless we’ve achieved our procurement target.” The provincial authorities have, however, heaved a sigh of relief on the announcement of Rs1,800 per maund (40kg) support price of wheat by the federal government.

“There was a risk of inter-province smuggling of wheat when the price was Rs1,650 per maund in Punjab, while Sindh had fixed it at Rs2,000 per maund. Now we expect the private sector of Punjab will pick the surplus of Sindh as the latter is producing wheat more than its requirements, while considering transportation and other overhead charges the Rs1,800 per maund rate in Punjab leaves little attraction for hauling grain from here to Sindh,” admits a food official seeking anonymity.