Islamabad - Ministry of National Food Security and Research on Wednesday said that meeting the challenge of food security was the top priority of the government.

The ministry, clarifying a news report which claimed that mismanagement of wheat operations by the government causing loss of Rs105 billion to the national exchequer, termed it factually incorrect.  It said that the country’s overall wheat requirement for the current year was estimated at 27.6 million metric tons (MMT) inclusive of 2.2 MMT of seed and reserve stock. 

Whereas wheat production during the year stood at 25.8 MMT inclusive of carry forward stock, it said adding that therefore, the government decided to import 2.2 MMT wheat to bridge the demand-supply gap and protect price stability in the market. 

The gap between demand and supply could only be managed by imports to augment supplies. 

Whereas wheat stocks of PASSCO and Government of Punjab from year before were largely deployed to fill demand-supply gap in the country. 

It is pertinent to note that PASSCO supplied 0.5 MMT to Government of Sindh as it fell short of procurement target of 1.2 MMT.

It said that the media reports regarding the export of 5.5 MMT wheat during 2018-19 were factually incorrect and It was clarified that only 0.59 MMT wheat was exported during that period, whereas export of wheat during preceding year like 2017-18 was as high as 2.1 MMT. 

Import and export of wheat in the last several years have been a normal activity in keeping with domestic stock position. 

During the period 2009-19, a total of 9 MMT of wheat was exported, while imports were about 1.2 MMT, it added. 

Therefore, attributing the increase in wheat price due to export of 5.5 MMT is unsubstantiated. It is important to take a holistic view as wheat is harvested in two months, whereas it is released and consumed throughout the year. 

Therefore, in order to maintain price stability and uninterrupted supply throughout the year, both federal and provincial governments bear the expense of yearly carrying cost of public wheat stock, which covers mark-up, storage and incidental costs.

During the current year, subsidy expenditure of the federal and provincial governments on locally procured wheat is estimated at Rs66 billion.

In order to match release price of imported wheat of 2.2 MMT with released price of locally procured wheat, the federal and provincial governments will also bear cost differential which is initially estimated around Rs29 billion. 

It is pertinent to highlight the agriculture sector growth from 2013-18 has been very marginal as crop sector only grew on average 0.4 percent while consumption increased at a higher pace. 

Hence, per capita wheat availability has decreased from 140 kg to 124 kg. 

The government is fully committed to meet the rising challenge of food security and enhancing agricultural productivity and for this purpose, comprehensive Prime Minister’s Agriculture Emergency Programme of Rs275 billion has been launched. 

Furthermore, government has increased wheat support price by 27 percent to incentivise farmers for enhanced production of wheat, whereof wheat support price during preceding four years remained stagnant at Rs1,300 per 40 kg.