ISLAMABAD - The Senate’s Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research was informed Wednesday that the receivables of Pakistan Agriculture, Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO) were Rs 75 billion.

The committee, which met here with Senator Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah in the chair, was also apprised that PASSCO was paying Rs 12 billion interest to banks annually on the loan availed to procure wheat stock.

PASSCO Managing Director Tariq Masud told the committee that it was mandatory for the corporation to keep about 1.8 million tons of wheat stock as strategic reserves. He said the corporation would procure one million tons wheat during the current season across the country. It had established about 12 zones and 230 wheat procurement centers in the provinces to facilitate the growers to sell their produce at official fixed rates.

Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan informed the committee that after the devolution of the food ministry, the provinces were responsible for the development of the agriculture sector. But they were showing less interest in that regard, he added. He said the agricultural sector was facing several challenges as area under different crop cultivation had been reduced due to rise in input costs.

He said Plant Breeders Rights Bill was approved by the Cabinet Committee, but registration and copyright issues were some of the hurdles in its finalization. He said the passage the bill by the Parliament would bring revolution in seed production and it would also increase per acre crop output and enhance farmers’ incomes too.

The minister stressed on the need for reducing the input costs to make the agriculture produce competitive in international markets.

Meanwhile, a representative of Sindh Food Department informed the committee that the province would procure 1.1 million tons wheat during the current procurement campaign.

He said about 10.10 million bags were distributed among the growers. Some 442 procurement centers have been established in the province, he added.

The Secretary Food Punjab apprised the committee that the department would procure about 4.50 million tons wheat as the procurement campaign would start from April 15.

It had established 378 procurement centers and would distribute about 40 million bags for which all arrangements were finalized, he added.

He said that first five days of the procurement campaign would be specified for small scale farmers having 12 to 12.5 acres of land. He said the Punjab government would also provide Rs 9 per bag to farmers as delivery charges, whereas about 2.2 million tons of carry forward stocks were available.

The committee recommended for conducting surveys before sowing of every major crop in order to ensure availability of certified seeds.

It directed the PASSCO to increase its procurement centers in the Sindh province to facilitate the growers and provide appropriate security to its staff.

Senators Muhammad Azam Khan Swati, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan Dhandla, Gul Bashra and Johan Kenneth Williams attended the meeting.