GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 879, 25 April 2024

Farmers in Pakistan's Punjab threaten to protest: Five reasons why

On 20 April 2024, Dawn reported that farmers in Punjab have threatened protest across the province due to "poor wheat procurement target and lower grain support price." On 19 April, the president of the Kisan Board Pakistan, Sardar Zafar Hussain, in a press conference, warned of demonstrations in all major towns and district headquarters to urge the government to "procure at least five million tonnes of wheat this  season and demand an increase in grain support price from current PKR 3,900 to PKR 5,000 per 40kg."

A storm of discontent is brewing amongst farmers in the province as they grapple with plummeting wheat prices, soaring input costs, and a perceived lack of government support. This discontent threatens to erupt into widespread protests on 25 April, leading to possible unrest in the region.

The decision to protest is primarily motivated by farmers' economic circumstances, notably those related to wheat production. Wheat has long been a staple crop for farmers in Punjab, providing a valuable source of revenue and subsistence for rural populations. However, several problems have recently harmed wheat farming's profitability. The following are five major reasons.

1. The rising cost of inputs
Crop production costs have doubled since 2023. Farmers have faced soaring costs for agricultural commodities such as fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel, which reduce their already limited profit margins.

2. Declining price for the produce 
The second major reason is the static or declining pricing of farmers' produce. The average price of main crops has plummeted by 25 per cent, impacting profitability. Farmers from regions with major wheat production, such as Multan and Bahawalpur, are at the mercy of manipulated markets, selling their grains for just PKR 2200-2800 per maund, which does not cover production costs. The farmers believe they are being exploited by both the middlemen and the government in this context.

3. Market manipulation and unjust tactics
Allegations of wheat import when domestic reserves were relatively high have raised concerns among farmers that the market is being manipulated to their detriment. This lack of trust in the fairness and transparency of market dynamics has only fuelled farmers' dissatisfaction and anguish.

4. Inadequate Support Prices
Despite guarantees and announcements of support packages, many farmers believe that more than the aid supplied is needed to meet their real issues. The government has fixed this year's wheat crop support price at PKR3,900 per 40 kg. Still, farmers' lobbies complain that the Punjab Food Department and Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Supplies Corporation have yet to begin purchasing the product. The gap between promises and delivery has widened the divide between farmers and the administration. 

5. Minimal Government efforts
The government has taken several steps regarding the agriculture sector, such as the Kissan package, whose main feature is interest-free credit and lowering market prices for bread and naans. The recent declaration of price controls for bread and naan, aimed at easing consumer burdens, is interpreted as a partial concession to farmer demands. However, many farmers believe these efforts must address the core causes of their complaints and do little to help their current financial difficulties. More effective government intervention is needed to stabilize prices and provide appropriate grain support prices. 

Farmers' Protests: What next?
Farmers' organizations, such as Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) and Kisan Board Pakistan, have been at the forefront of the protest movement, expressing their demands and gathering support for their cause. These organizations have advocated for increasing wheat's minimum support price and expanding the wheat procurement target to ensure fair pay for farmers and price stability.

Political leaders, particularly the opposition, have also backed the farmers, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on broad anger among rural voters. The alignment of interests between agricultural organizations and opposition politicians has fuelled the protest movement and pressured the government to act.

Farmers have also threatened to stop sowing wheat without adequate prices. The threat of protests highlights the broader concerns about fair compensation and the sustainability of Pakistan's agricultural sector.

Shahram Haq, "
Protest planned on wheat price crashThe Express Tribune, 24 April 2024
Wheat farmers threaten protests," Dawn, 20 April 2024
PTI senator threatens protest with farmers," The Express Tribune, 21 April 2024
Pakistan: Farmers' protests possible in Punjab Province through late-April," TheCrisis24,10 April 2024

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