Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-18 highlights that wheat contributes 9.1 per cent of value addition to agriculture and 1.7 per cent to GDP growth in Pakistan. Wheat production 2017-18 records a decline of 4.4 per cent compared to last year. The survey attributes this fall with the reasons such as decline area sown, delayed and prolonged sugarcane crushing season, and acute water shortages. From the technical point of view, these are solid reasons. However, the farmers have something otherwise to tell.

The Punjab Wheat Procurement Policy 2018 has introduced procurement process, consisting of two stages. At the first stage, eligible growers will file applications at specified procurement centers. Scrutinised applicants (after verification of grower’s list, ownership record and girdawari) will submit, in the second stage, a call deposit of Rs110 per gunny bag in the name of in-charge procurement center and gets the gunny bags issued.

Dissection of these two stages reveal that this procurement process is the main reason why farmers feel discouraged to cultivate wheat. It is almost a two months long process involving a number of traditional actors in land management system. Before the harvest begins, Nambardar initiates a grower’s list in consultation with Patwaris. In this list, he maintains the record of total ownership of a farmer against his cultivated area of wheat.

The Punjab Land Records Authority (PLRA) gets this list after verification by Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) duly signed by Assistant commissioner (AC) of respective tehsils. Lucky enough to have their names on the list, farmers have to submit an application to the centre in-charge mentioning serial numbers against their names. Centres accept applications, make another excel file and send it to Deputy Commissioner Office. This is merely a useless exercise, a repetition of already existing list. After verification, DC sends final list back to the procurement centers but the process don’t ends here.

Having their names in the final list farmers have to visit nearest commercial bank (located, in most cases, in tehsil headquarters) to make a call deposit of Rs110 per gunny bag. A bank account in the name of farmer is a prerequisite for making call deposit, otherwise he is out of race at this stage. Fortunate ones with an account, farmer again goes to the procurement centre along with the receipt of application, call deposit and CNIC. After verification, he gets his token slip on which jute bags are to be issued. On the next day, framer collects the gunny bags and from here, supply side of chain starts.

Filled bags are sent to procurement centers, and got unloaded on their turn (usually after three days waiting in the queue). Within another two to three days of the delivery, bills are produced. These bills are deposited in the bank and it takes almost a week to make payments to the farmers.

Such is the mechanism of just one transaction that is selling your own product. The above mentioned is the formal channel while the stories of nepotism, mis-management and corruption are otherwise. Hundreds of the jute bags not issued to farmers are given to Artees (middlemen). Artees, in the first place, purchase wheat from the farmers at market price, that is, Rs2,750 and sell it to the government at fixed price, that is, Rs3,250 per 100kg. This Rs500 difference per bag between market price and fixed price is the real profit of farmers and they are deprived from it in a very systematic way.

Big farmers have got alternate ways, be it legal or illegal. However, it is the poorest of the poor whose life is directly affected by this cumbersome exercise. For those who are aware, wheat is a ray of hope for small farmers. To marry daughters, fathers wait for this crop almost the whole year and so do the house wives to buy a refrigerator. Correcting this one process will impact lives of almost 80 per cent of the farmers who cultivate wheat.

A number of things can be done to amend the process. Simplest is to make it a ‘one window operation’. Cost of multiple traveling, at least, can be avoided. Secondly, logic of call deposit is beyond understanding. Jute bags are not issued anonymously, but to the farmers with their all record kept by government. In case of failure to deliver bags back, defaulter can be traced within no time. Government should trust its own property rights and issue jute bags without any security money. Last but not the least, why don’t you let the market decide the price? Oh yes! Food security. But may be there are other vested interests, huge subsidies and a mafia of corruption working in the whole procurement process.