Daily Times Editorials | July 20, 2020

Wheat crisis

The government has belatedly admitted the shortage of wheat in the country as it has allowed private buyers to buy stocks from the international market. In the times of a pandemic, when food security becomes a most vital issue for every country, it becomes harder to import wheat at usual rates. All major wheat exporting countries, such as Russia and the US, have banned wheat exports. That is quite logical. The import of 270,000 tonnes of wheat has been ordered by private buyers, which will reach the country in September, according to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. So far, more than 120 importers have agreed to import wheat. It seems the government, which has restricted flour millers to sell flour at official rates, will have to provide subsidy to the importers. The government wants flour mills to sell flour at Rs850 per 10 kg whereas millers have to buy the commodity at Rs2,000 from private buyers, making it impossible for them to follow official rates.

Deadlock over official rates of flour persists in the country. Flour millers in Punjab want the release of 25,000 tonnes of wheat in Punjab, whereas the provincial government has agreed to release 17,000 tonnes a day. The government insists flour mills are getting against the province’s urban population-based requirements of 16,602 tonnes per day, while millers say earlier they would add up 10,000 tonnes from their own stocks to meet the daily demand. This year, millers were not allowed to buy wheat from farms. By looking closely at the crisis, one can see that from the common man to wheat farmers, retailers, flour millers and chakki owners, all are complaining about the shortage of wheat in the country. Not only the people, Federal Minister for Food Security Fakhar Imam has also pointed out the absence of wheat from the market. Pakistan used to be a country with surplus wheat since 2010. In 2019, for the first time, flour prices soared, and wheat disappeared from markets. For 2020-21, the Federal Committee on Agriculture set a procurement target of 27.03 million tons from 9.2 hectares (22.73 million acres) in 2020 in the sowing season. When the target was set, it was predicted that Pakistan would get a bumper crop this year, almost two million tonnes more from the five-year average (25.38 million tonnes). It never happened. The government should arrange sufficient wheat stocks and lessen production cost so that farmers again turn to the staple food crop.


Back to polio campaigns

Before the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were fighting against poliovirus. The battle had to be abandoned because of the physical distancing and lockdown enforcement, which the country is going to resume from today (July 20) with a countrywide campaign. During the lull, the deadly virus kept preying on children under five all the time, and so far, the virus has crippled 60 young lives in the first seven months of the year, of them 21 cases have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 20 from Sindh, 15 from Balochistan and four from Punjab during the current year. Last year, the tally was 147. The fresh case was reported from Balochistan where a 17-month-old girl, who belongs to Chaman town of Qila Abdullah district, tested positive for the poliovirus. The girl would have to lead special child life because of the refusal of her parents to vaccinate her against the virus. The National Institute of Health has reported it was a case of refusal as the family was against the vaccination due to which the vaccine was not administered to the child during the routine immunisation.

Only Pakistan and Afghanistan are the countries with polio cases. Because of the high frequency of the polio cases, Pakistan is under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the World Health Organisation and now every person travelling abroad has to carry a polio vaccination certificate. Hopefully, the resumption of the polio drives will help the government tackle a spike in the polio cases. It can only be done when the public cooperated with the vaccination teams. Polio eradication efforts are often thwarted by parents’ refusal to get their children vaccinated, mainly due to cultural and religious influences. Since its inception in 1994, the polio campaigns in Pakistan have been the victim of misinformation, propaganda, disinformation and lies. As the government fought fake news and disinformation in the case of coronavirus, it should show the same spirit to fight lies in the case of polio vaccine. The world has yet to discover a vaccine against coronavirus, but it has invented and successfully used a vaccine against poliomyelitis which has killed the virus from the entire world, except for two countries. People in our part of the world need to realize the importance of vaccination or be ready to playing with the lives of children.

Published in Daily Times, July 20, 2020

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