Resources say that frequently reported causes for wheat and flour crises are the unreliable estimate of the wheat crop size as well as delays by those responsible for taking appropriate actions in time. The issue was first anticipated in May last year and the authorities were being alerted about the expected wheat shortage. Government just took decorative measures like imposed a ban on wheat export. Even the decision to ban the export by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet was taken after several reminders by the food security ministry.
Reporters have contacted officials of the concerned departments and have revealed that the crop estimates are often faulty and in past has caused crises as well. For example, in 2007-08 wheat was exported in large quantities since the wheat crop was expected to be a bumper one. Similar error was committed in 2014 that caused panic procurement as well as import of wheat in May and August that year.
Wrong estimation of crop size mainly contributed towards wheat crisis
Under the current scheme, provinces crop reporting system has informed the federal government about the wheat production. “No matter how reliable this system is, we have to depend on it,” an official of the food security ministry told reporters. He has the opinion that since the federal government has no other system for crop or production estimation and monitoring the government relies on the current system. This is also the provincial governments which decide the export of wheat. He said, We have documentary proof about crop reporting, stocks and export permissions”.
Relying on the estimate of surplus wheat availability in the country at April 27, 2018 , Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi allowed “surplus wheat” export of 0.5 million tonnes at a discount of $155 per tonne through sea route. ECC followed his footsteps and allowed export of 0.5m tones wheat on November 20, 2018 giving a subsidy amount of $105 per tonne. ECC was led by Asad Umer being the finance minister then. Now he is the Planning Minister. This decision was requested by Government of Punjab, Sindh and PASSCO. PASSCO has been sharing 0.1m tonnes and provinces sharing 0.4m tonnes. At time of decision total wheat stock was estimated to be 10m tonnes.
ECC headed by Asad Umar also allowed another 0.5m tones wheat at first day of the last year. This time PASSCO was sharing 0.1m tones, Punjab 0.25m tonnes and Sindh 0.15m tonnes. The ECC decided to complete the export of wheat and related products by April 30, 2019. Completion of entire process including codal formalities of the exporters was due by June 30.
The delayed decision of imposing ban on wheat export is also questionable
It was reported on 17 April that total 28.16m tonnes wheat was available in the country. It also included the leftovers from the last year. A completely different scenario was presented in May and panic started to get in. Food scrutiny ministry provided a summary to ECC 3 times in June. The summary called for a ban on wheat export. The decision for ban was however taken on 25 July 2019.
The total quantities of wheat exports have been totaled to be 689,487 metric tonnes during July 2018 to July 2019. However the ministry official has painted a rather different picture which passes the buck to last government.