By Saleem Shaikh
KARACHI, Feb 28: Wheat harvesting has started in lower Sindh districts but the government has not yet set up procurement centres.
According to the information gathered from the growers the harvesting began from February 15, in Umerkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas and some parts of Sanghar districts. The harvesting in central Sindh is also picking up.
The province is likely to have bumper wheat crop, but the key challenge for the provincial food department would be to procure the grain on time.
The delay in procurement hurts small farmers as they are compelled to sell their produce to the middlemen and the traders at a price below the official support price, said Amin Memon, chairman Lower Sindh Growers Association.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture official Nabi Bux said that no efforts had been made by the food department to arrange gunny bags and setting up wheat picking centres in the lower Sindh.
Secretary Agriculture Agha Jan Akhtar said that wheat sowing in the province would touch 11,00,000 hectares against a target of 10,31,000 hectares and it is hoped that the wheat output would also surpass the target.
“We are expecting some 3.8 million tons of wheat production against a target of 3.682 million tons”, he said. “Fruits of bumper wheat output may go down the drain if provincial food department failed to set up wheat buying centres immediately”, he warned.
A spokesman of the food department Muneer Jalbani claimed that efforts had been made to purchase polypropylene (PP) and gunny bags and procurement centres would be set up in wheat growing districts before March 15.
He said that 1.3 million tons of wheat procurement target has been set for the food department for 2011 Rabi season, which would be achieved before June.
He said that a tender was floated on January 29, for buying 10 million PP bags (50kg each), which would be distributed among the wheat growers by April 1.
However, some officials in the food department hardly see any possibility of the wheat procurement centres to become operational before April 1.
“The buying centres are established only after the Sindh government issues orders. But, so far no orders have been made to the food department”, they argued.
Mr Jalbani, however, insisted that the food department was determined to make 350 procurement centres operational by March 15, in lower Sindh and by April 1, in upper Sindh districts.