No let-up in yearlong flour shortage in Pakistan

October 17th, 2008 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Oct 17 (IANS) The shortage of flour that started last December is still continuing, resulting in long queues before government-run utility stores that sell the commodity at subsidised rates.”I fail to understand why this has happened in a country like Pakistan where wheat used to be in surplus,” said Amir Ahmed Chaudhry, a former member of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council.

Chaudhry believes the situation is the result of either hoarding, or “deliberate move or maybe mismanagement” by the caretaker government that was in place from November 2007 to March this year.

But the shortage of flour that is used to make roti, Pakistan’s staple food, continued even after the new crop was harvested this year.

The governments of Pakistan Peoples Party at the centre and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in wheat-growing Punjab have blamed the caretaker ministry and former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s administration for the shortage that has also resulted in protests and skirmishes in various parts of the country.

Agriculturist Yousaf Hussain said the situation was similar to that in any Arab country when faced with shortage of petrol, adding that the decision to allow exports, particularly to Afghanistan, reflected poor judgement.

Adding to the problem is rampant smuggling; in the last two decades, whenever any governments restricted exports, flour would be smuggled out.

In North West Frontier Province (NWFP), several flour mills sell their flour mostly to people known to smuggle the commodity to Afghanistan through the porous border.

According to official figures, Pakistan this year produced 23.4 million tonnes of wheat - two million tonnes more than last year.

This implies that either the government has released exaggerated figures to give the impression of strong economic growth, or that hoarders and smugglers are at work, experts said.

The bulk of Pakistan’s population lives in villages, and more than 60 percent of its people are involved in agriculture, especially in Punjab - a major producer of wheat and cotton.

To encourage farmers, the government last month increased the support price for wheat by 300 Pakistani rupees to 950 rupees per 40 kilogram. While the decision has been welcomed by farmers, economists fear this would put extra burden on consumers.

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