SINDH was once known as the graveyard of lingering rural development projects spread all over the countryside. These ill-conceived and badly-funded schemes were kept alive year after year in oxygen tents through sporadic financing.
The cash resources were thinly spread to keep stakeholders happy with cascading cost over-runs and more than anticipated capital spending. The timely completion of projects was a low priority. Cost escalation owing to delays helped stakeholders make more money.
The project’s cost benefit ratio did not matter as it was financed with taxpayers’ money. The lenders were secured by the government guarantees for repayment of loans with interest irrespective of the success or failure of the project.
In recent times, the conventional wisdom of the Sindh government gave way to managing fund disbursement better by setting priorities for early completion of schemes. Funds were also diverted from slow to fast moving projects rather than focusing on schemes to tackle major problems facing the rural economy. In the process, the priority sectors of the economy took a back seat.
Owing to carryover stocks, the provincial government is fixing lower procurement target — 0.9-1.1m tonnes — for the last two years against the usual 1.3m tonnes.
On such lapse is the slow pace of building storage facilities to avoid wheat crop losses stacked in the open to save money that is spent on improvised rented premises. The scheme for raising the province’s wheat storage capacity, according to Director Food Sindh Syed Bachal Shah, is underway but due to budgetary constraints, it could not be completed this year. Hopefully, he says, it will be completed by next crop season.
The province’s existing wheat storage capacity is around 716,000 tonnes which are under food department’s control. Owing to carryover stocks, the provincial government is fixing lower procurement target ‑ 0.9-1.1m tonnes ‑ for the last two years against the usual 1.3m tonnes. This year’s procurement target remains at 1.1m tonnes.
Sindh is working on a scheme under the Annual Development Programme to increase its wheat storage capacity at least up to one million tonnes to avoid losses caused by rains as presently a sizeable portion of the crop, in large quantities, is being stored under the sky in Hyderabad, Ghotki, Bholari godowns etc.
One major rental wheat storage facility for the provincial food department is Pipri godowns near Karachi owned by the Trading Corporation of Pakistan where it keeps around 30,000-35,000 bags of 100kg each. Various roller flour mill owners keep wheat at their premises free of charge. It helps them save their transportation cost and avoid weight losses.
“Not only do we allow our premises to store the crop, we also buy damaged wheat whenever the government wants to reduce its stocks. We have been requesting the government to increase its storage capacity and export the surplus stocks so that the new crop can be procured,” says Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA) Sindh Circle Chairman Saman Mal.
The Sindh food department currently has a carryover stock of 475,000 tonnes from the previous crop. It is anticipating that 100,000 tonnes will be sold out to mills by the time fresh wheat procurement will be in full swing. However, mill and chakki owners are buying from the open market where it is available at Rs3,100-Rs3150 per 100kg while the food department is offering the rate of Rs3,340 per 100kg bag.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture General Secretary Nabi Bux Sathio says the food department does not seem to be serious in raising its storage capacity as some officials tend to misappropriate the commodity on the pretext of supposed losses due to climate change. In Tando Mohammad Khan alone, he says, wheat is stored on hardly 20,000 sq. ft whereas the godown has a covered area of three acres.
According to an official of the food department, the Sindh government could invest in the upgradation of storage facilities by selling at least Hyderabad’s Hali Road godown that stretches over five acres. The godown is surrounded by thickly populated localities making transportation difficult.
The costly land should be auctioned and the proceeds be invested in cheaper and bigger space elsewhere. The government, however, hasn’t considered this option seriously,” he said.
The federal government had built silos off the Super Highway in early 1980s for wheat storage. For some reasons, they could not be used and one reason was perhaps non-availability of required machinery. Its land is now illegally occupied and some goods have been stolen. A move to privatise the project was dropped owing to a very low offer. A bid of Rs10m was received against a cost of Rs228m.