Farmers movement in Pakistan demands fair prices for wheat

Pakistan Kissan Ittehad protest. Photo: PKI

 

Pakistan’s new government has decided to drastically reduce the procurement of wheat this year amidst record production, creating fear among farmers of massive losses and distress to the rural population

Thousands of farmers in Pakistan have launched a nationwide movement demanding increased government procurement of wheat. The campaign will kick off with national mobilizations on Friday, May 10, Khalid Khokhar, the leader of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (Pakistan Farmer Movement or PKI), a united body of most of the farmers’ unions in the country, said in a press conference on Sunday.

The mobilizations are set to kick off in Multan, Punjab and would be a continuation of the last month’s agitation in several parts of the country. Khokhar claimed that an even greater number of farmers’ organizations and groups would be participating in the campaign and mobilizations.

In the last week of April hundreds of farmers were arrested by Pakistani security forces following their protests in different parts of the country. Farmers have been protesting against the decision of the newly elected government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, to drastically reduce the public procurement of wheat. Farmers have alleged that this will destroy the agriculture in the country and cause massive distress to the farming community.

Khokar claimed that farmers tried to resolve the issue through negotiation with the officials at different levels but failed to get any assurances. He claimed that farmers had to buy every input at inflated rates from “black markets” but would be forced to sell their products in the open market at throw away prices due to this policy.

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The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government led by Sharif had decided to reduce the procurement saying it would only buy around 2 million tons of wheat from farmers at the minimum support price (MSP) of 3,900 Pakistani rupee (over USD 14) per 40 KG this year. Last year the government bought 5.6 million tons this way.

The government is claiming it is unable to buy more wheat due to massive stock from imports. The Sharif government, during its previous term, had started importing wheat due to the fall in domestic production caused by floods in 2022 and to ease the rise in prices of food items.  Farmers have pointed out that the government did not stop the imports on time despite reports of record crops this season. According to a report in Al Jazeera, between September 2023 and March 2024 Pakistan imported 3.5 million tons of wheat.

Corruption allegations have been lodged at the government and it has been forced to initiate an inquiry into the “wheat import scandal”.

This has led to allegations of corruption and Sharif government has been forced to constitute an inquiry into it. Khokhar alleged that the corrupt wheat import policy has caused a loss of over USD 1 billion to the country at a time when Pakistan has been facing a major forex shortage.

Massive losses for the farming community

Farmers in Pakistan are worried reduced procurement would lead to massive fall in prices of wheat and a cumulative loss of over USD 1.4 billion to the farmers at a time when there is record production. This year the total wheat production is expected to be over 32 million tons in Pakistan in comparison to 28 million tons in 2023.

This is a significant reduction in government procurement of less than 7% of total production against the convention of over 20% in the past. This would mean farmers would be forced to sell the wheat at market prices which would be much beyond the production cost.

The Pakistan government signed a USD 3 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year. The deal has mandated withdrawal of subsidies from electricity leading to massive rise in electricity bills. Fertilizers are also more expensive than previous years.

Pakistan is facing unprecedented levels of inflation for more than two years now. In May last year the inflation was recorded at 38%. This April it “slowed” to 17%, which is the lowest in the last two years.

Amidst the inflation and fall in prices of their produce, farmers are struggling to continue farming in Pakistan and have experienced significant reductions in their income. Nearly 40% of Pakistan’s total labor force is involved in agriculture and nearly 70% of its total exports are related to the agricultural sector. Any large-scale decline in farmer’s income could exacerbate Pakistan’s economy and make the life of millions of Pakistani much more difficult at a time when poverty already affects 40% of the population. 

Original heading – Pakistani farmers launch a nationwide movement demanding fair prices for wheat

Source- Peoples Dispatch, May 7, 2024.

By Abdul Rahman

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