ISLAMABAD  -  The government has started buying wheat from farmers but due to the alleged discouraging behaviour of officials at public procurement centres, small farmers continue to be exploited by the influential broker mafia. 

Harvesting starts in April. The hot areas like Southern Punjab and some parts of Sindh are first to mow the crop and government buying starts by mid of April. But this year was different. Due to changing weather patterns, harvesting was started two weeks earlier. Many believe that delay in government buying caused huge financial losses to farmers. 

Small farmers buy Urea, seed, spray and other farm inputs on loan, they have to sell the crop as soon as it is harvested to pay the debt and to run their kitchen, said Rao Afsar, head of small farmers association. 

He said the harvesting started in last week of March, while government buying started in last week of April. Like every year, the middleman was quick to exploit the situation. Middleman backed by influential purchased around 30-40 percent of crop at Rs950 to Rs1100 per mound from farmers and sent it to KPK from where it would be easily smuggled to Iran and Afghanistan, Afsar said. He said local flour mills also bought wheat at very less price. 

Every year the government announce support price for wheat, but due to delays and complicated procedures the farmers have to sell their crop to open market, where middleman buy on cash and make fortunes by either storing it for profit or by smuggling it to neighbouring countries, he added. 

The buying centers are not issuing bags (Bardana), to Mustagirs (leasers), complaint Hazoor Baksh, another official of farmers association. Around 80 percent farmers fall in the category of small farmers, possessing land less than 12 acres. Many lease adjacent lands to make it profitable. The wheat buyers provide special bags in which farmers fill wheat and transport them to the centres. After issuing bardana, quality check is another challenge the growers have to face, he added. 

The officials at government buying centres will not clear your lot until you don’t pay them bribe, if you insist they will declare it contaminated with sand, and you end up paying additional 2-5 kg extra wheat per bag, said another farmer Ghulam Abbas Kanju said. 

The federal and provincial governments announced starting the distribution of Bar Dana (gunny bag) from April 15, and then rescheduled it to April 20. But the buying actually started later. According to farmers, the wheat buying has been started in Rahim Yar Khan, RajanPur, Bahawalpur Layah, DG Khan, but it have to start in Multan. Officials of Ministry of Food Security deny any connivance in delay of wheat buying and said the procurement campaign will start formally on May 1, 2017. They claim the delay in buying was due to the delay in finalizing wheat procurement policy 2017. 

The support price of per 40 kilogram wheat is fixed at Rs. 1300 but many farmers complain that small growers in the province are compelled to sell their wheat of Rs950 to Rs1050 per 40kg in Punjab province due to discouraging behaviour of staff at wheat buying centres. 

Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan believes that this year, wheat production will exceed the target of 26.1 million tonnes. With the last year’s leftover stock of 4.3 million tonnes, total availability of wheat will be about 30.43 million tonnes, which is more than the national requirement, he said. 

The minister said the fertiliser subsidy scheme would continue even after expiry in January this year. He said Punjab and Balochistan have agreed to provide funds for the scheme while Sindh will soon be on board, however, the KP government remains noncommittal. Bosan admitted that agriculture is becoming less profitable and the area under cotton cultivation has shown a reduction. He said the national production target for sugarcane in 2017-18 has been set at 6.85 million tonnes over an area of 1.16m acres. Bosan believe enough water is available for 2017-18 Kharif crops. He said water availability in canal heads will remain 68.12m acre-feet (MAF) against the average usage of 67.1 MAF.