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Pakistan saving Rs. 10 Billion by avoiding Indian tomatoes

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Punjab Minister for Food and Chairperson Stakeholder in the Punjab Food Authority Mr. Bilal Yaseen chaired an assemblage of Cabinet Committee on Price controls. He observed that the local farmers have been encouraged on banning imports of Indian vegetables and Pakistan has remitted Rs.10 billion worth of foreign exchange from July to November in lieu of not importing tomatoes from the Eastern rival. The minister quoted that this was a blessing in disguise. 

Referring to figures in briefing by Punjab Agriculture Department the minister said that the ban on Indian imports has put productive implications on local growers. India had been exporting low quality produce to the Pakistani market, although Pakistani potatoes and onions are categorized as good quality produce and are in demand globally.

LCCI President Abdul Basit said that the country has the resources to feed its own population.

After the increment in supply from Sindh, prices of tomatoes in Punjab have gradually diminished; last year in December the stock prices of tomatoes was Rs. 58 per kg and currently it is Rs. 59 per kg, the minister noted. The Cabinet Committee agreed unanimously with the suggestion put forward by Member Provincial Assembly Abdul Rauf Mughal who had suggested that wheat growers be encouraged to cultivate edible crops too so that the burden on consumption of foreign exchange on import of the same could be shared.

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Bilal Yaseen, while noticing the price hike of onions has directed all deputy commissioners to activate price magistrates to ensure that there are not considerable differences in wholesale and retail prices.

Earlier in the year, growers’ representatives had urged the Sindh government to ban the imports of Indian vegetables, ensure transparency in the distribution of subsidized agricultural implementation and link the province’s fruit and vegetable sector with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

A joint delegation of farmers from the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) and Sindh Abadgar Ittehad (SAI) had met with the Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah in Karachi to share its proposals with the provincial chief executive.

Punjab Minister for Food and Chairperson Stakeholder in the Punjab Food Authority Mr. Bilal Yaseen chaired an assemblage of Cabinet Committee on Price controls.

The delegation had demanded to ban the imports of vegetables from India, noting that its agriculture sector is highly subsidized. SAB Vice President Mahmood Nawaz Shah said the cost of the drip system, which the government is installing on a cost-sharing basis, was too high for farmers. He informed the CM that private companies were installing the system at the cost of Rs. 150,000 per acre. In return the Sindh government was recovering Rs. 120,000 per acre citing 40 percent cost as farmer’s share. He demanded that the scheme be rationalized to benefit poor farmers.

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He said the tractor scheme was plagued by financial irregularities, which prompted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to launch a probe. He said the distribution of 63 solar-powered tube wells is insufficient and should be increased. He urged the chief minister to take notice of the drastic decline in sunflower production, which once stood at 260,000 hectares but has now reduced to 60,000 hectares.

He said sunflower production can help reduce the country’s import bill. He proposed that the Sindh government should announce a support price for sunflowers.

The decision to not import tomatoes from India in the face of a severe drought had led to a massive surge in tomato prices in the domestic market with per-kilo rates hovering around Rs. 200 in Urban areas of Karachi and north of this figure in Punjab. The price of per kilo tomatoes had soared to Rs. 300 in parts of Lahore and elsewhere in Punjab.

SAB Vice President Mahmood Nawaz Shah said the cost of the drip system, which the government is installing on a cost-sharing basis, was too high for farmers.

The decision, however tough as it was for the Pakistani consumers, was hailed by the business community at large. LCCI President Abdul Basit said that the country has the resources to feed its own population.

“Therefore, local growers should be facilitated to the maximum and their issues should be resolved on a priority basis,” Basit said in a statement. “The government needs to increase the cropped area to avoid any crisis-like situation. We cannot afford to stay where we are today in terms of cropped area and per hectare yield because we are already running short of per capita food availability.”

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The LCCI said that though almost 43% labour force depends upon agriculture, the yield gap in the four major crops of Pakistan is thrice as compared to the best producers in the world such as China and Egypt.

In the face of the crisis, Federal Minister for Food Security Sikandar Hayat Bosan had said that the tomato and onion crisis will be over within a few days after their crops ripen in Balochistan, making it concrete that the government did not plan on importing vegetables from India.