Amidst increasing inflation and an overall economic downturn, flat bread makers have threatened to call a strike if the price of naans and rotis – staples cooked on stove – are not increased due to hike in flour prices. They have threatened to raise the price to Rs20 per naan if the price of flour is not brought down.
The flour crisis has been ongoing for the past couple of months. The prices of flour and fine flour are Rs3700 and Rs4700 per bag respectively in Punjab where retail price of flour ranges between Rs40-45 per kg. The situation is much worse in Karachi where flour is being sold for Rs54-60 per kg.
At the end of October, the federal government decided to release 650,000 metric tonnes of wheat for Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakthunkhwa to ease out the demand and supply equilibrium. This has failed to make any insignificant impact on prices. There is ambiguity on who is actually responsible for the crisis.
The Sindh government was unable to control the price of wheat due to influential hoarders and profiteers. The provincial government has thus been unsuccessful in stabilizing prices despite having a stock of more than 800,000 tonnes of wheat. It has now gradually started to provide wheat to flour mills on a quota basis. The new wheat harvest will be around March next year and the crisis might persist till then.
Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan called a meeting on controlling prices of essential items, and urged to take administrative steps against hoarders and profiteers. However, the prime minister was informed by representatives of provincial chief ministers that the availability of wheat was satisfactory and there was no complaint of shortage in any part of the country.
The provincial government has denied that there is a wheat crisis in Sindh in attempt to hide its incompetence. Many of the wheat crops were damaged due to heavy rainfall, while some were either expired in storage facilities or were shifted to Punjab by traders who purchased it on market rates.
The federal government has banned wheat exports- particularly to Afghanistan- so clearly the crisis is an internal one. There is enough wheat in the country to go round; an illusion of a shortage is being created just to raise prices and appease the monopoly of flour mills owners. There is a need to take strict action against hoarders to stablise wheat prices and bring relief to the common man.