Islamabad: The price of wheat flour has reached a record high, increasing nearly 80 percent from a year ago, making the staple food unaffordable for many Pakistanis.
Food price at record high
Food inflation is at an all-time high in Pakistan. The prices of vegetables, meat, dairy products, and bread have skyrocketed as the purchasing power of the people continues to shrink amid an ongoing economic crisis in the country of 220 million. The weekly food inflation jumped by nearly 31 per cent compared to last year, according to the Sensitive Price Index (SPI) released by the government. The price index for the week ending on January 5, 2023, recorded a 82.5% rise in the price of chicken and a 50% hike in eggs.
Wheat price hike
With the new hike, the price of wheat flour is now around Rs 160 per kilogram which is a significant increase since wheat flour is the country’s most essential staple food used to make roti and naan that most Pakistanis eat with every meal. The price of 5kg and 10kg flour bags have almost doubled from a year ago. The current wheat flour prices in major cities of Sindh and Punjab were reportedly the same at approximately Rs 160 per kg. However, regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa witnessed an additional increase as the price of a 20-kg wheat flour bag topped Rs3,000 in Kohat.
Bakers increase prices
As food inflation continues to flare, few things cause more concern than the cost of a roti. The price of the staple naan has been increased up to Rs30 and roti to Rs25 in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, local shopkeepers confirmed. Bakers say they were forced to increase their prices and some had to cut their production due to the steep rise in flour prices, as well as high electricity costs and energy shortages. “The situation is very worrisome. Food prices are brutally high even for middle class buyers. The poor people cannot afford to pay more,” said Amjad Hussain, a resident of Islamabad.
Wheat shortage in Balochistan
The province of Balochistan which was severely hit by floods last year is now facing a severe wheat crisis.
The provincial food minister Zamarak Khan appealed to federal as well as Sindh and Punjab provincial governments to send wheat bags as the food department had run out of its wheat stock. “We are facing an accute crisis and urgently need 600,000 bags of wheat on an emergency basis,” he said. The minister said Balochistan’s annual wheat consumption is 10.52 million bags, and it needed 1.2 million bags every month. He appealed to the prime minister and chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh to help as the provincial government had no money to provide subsidies on flour and urged the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) to supply 200,000 bags of wheat at reduced rates to meet the demand. Meanwhile, the Balochistan government is also conducting raids against wheat and flour hoarders who are exploiting the situation.
In Punjab, the Chief Minister Parvez Elahi has issued directions for an increase in the wheat quota of flour mills, doubling the number of sale points for flour at subsidised rate of Rs650 per 10-kg bag.
The country also witnessed demonstrations in various cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Sunday against record hike in prices of flour and other essential commodities and demanded that the government take immediate steps to control prices and ensure availability of essential food items. “The flour is available at shops but the prices are extraordinarily high. Why can’t the government keep a check on prices and ensure effective pricing?” complained Sabir Khan, the sole bread earner of a family of eight, in Peshawar.
Protests were also held in Mirpur Khas district of Sindh where a man was killed in a crowd crush when several hundred people gathered around the trucks to buy flour at subsidized rate of Rs65 per kg. Harsingh Kolhi, 35, the father of six, was among the hundreds of men and women who after several hours of wait just rushed towards the trucks as soon as they reached, leading to a crowd crush in which several people were injured and Kolhi was crushed to death. Kolhi’s family and local residents protested against food department and district administration for mismanagement and the flour shortage that led to the death of the Mirpur Khas resident.
Experts say the domestic food shortage that worsened after the floods, higher food prices in the international market, rupee depreciation, disruptions in domestic supplies and delays in imports due to import restrictions, and the failure of authorities in ensuring official prices are driving up the price of wheat and bread.