Pakistan: Wheat imports result in huge losses for peasants. Nationwide protest announced

Peasant Unions in Pakistan have announced a countrywide protest on May 21 against the wheat crisis, which they allege has been deliberately created by the former caretaker prime minister and some bureaucrats.

The unions are incensed by the influx of wheat imports during the latter half of 2023 and the initial months of 2024, which has led to an oversupply of wheat in the market and subsequent price reductions. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), then in power, made this decision in July 2023, merely a month before the conclusion of its care-taker governmental tenure.

Media reports quote figures provided by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research indicating that from September 2023 to March 2024, Pakistan imported over 3.5 million tonnes of wheat from global markets, where prices were notably lower. Consequently, by the onset of April this year, as Pakistani peasants commenced their wheat harvest, the national and provincial food storage departments found themselves with an excess stockpile of over 4.3 million tonnes of wheat.

Our local member organization Pakistan Rabita Kissan committee reports that the peasants in Punjab, the country’s largest province, are demanding that the government stop wheat imports that have flooded the market at a time when they expect bumper crops.

Agriculture is one of the most significant income sectors in Pakistan, making up nearly 23 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country. Wheat makes up 2 percent of the whole.

A gathering of 15 peasant organizations representing various regions of Pakistan convened in Lahore on May 9th to address the ongoing wheat crisis that has reverberated throughout the farming community, particularly in Punjab. At the suggestion of the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, these peasant groups resolved to hold nationwide protests.

Following the meeting, which saw the participation of peasants from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan, Farooq Tariq, the general secretary of the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, led a joint press conference. Tariq vocally demanded the immediate apprehension of former caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar, along with implicated bureaucrats and importers involved in what he termed the “wheat scam.” He underscored the staggering statistics, stating, “Pakistan squandered 330 billion rupees by importing 3.5 million tons of wheat from August 2023 to March 2024. Regrettably, much of this imported wheat was found to be infested with 1.3 million tons of insects.”

Malik Zulfiqar Awan, President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, stated, “All those implicated in the wheat import scandal should be promptly arrested, and their cases ought to be adjudicated in the NAB courts. The wheat import policy, which permitted the private sector to engage in procurement, must be abolished. Sixty ships from six different countries were utilized for wheat imports, despite widespread awareness that ample wheat had already been sown across Pakistan, especially in Punjab, for the current season.”

Furthermore, the peasants are pressing for the establishment of laboratories at the tehsil level to counter the proliferation of counterfeit fertilizers and pesticides. They are also calling for stringent measures against individuals charging exorbitant interest rates on loans extended to small-scale peasants.

Additionally, the peasants are advocating for a minimum support price for wheat and other crops and are urging the government to regulate the market to ensure equitable pricing for agricultural produce. They are also demanding that the government procure wheat from peasants annually.

The peasants are demanding:

– The abolition of the policy authorizing the private sector to import grain

– A minimum support price for wheat and all other crops

– Government regulation of the market to ensure fair prices for peasants’ produce

– An end to IMF-led neoliberal and anti-peasant open market policies

– Compensation for peasants who suffered losses due to government neoliberal policies

– Strict action against those who charge unbearable interest on loans to small peasants

In a unified statement, the peasants declared, “We will no longer tolerate continued exploitation. We are collaborating with peasants’ movements nationwide and will elevate the injustices faced by Pakistani peasants to the global stage. The government will find it challenging to stifle our voices.”