The government fixed the minimum support price of wheat at Rs1,800 per 40 kilogrammes for current season as an incentive to the farmers to grow wheat on more area in coming years, National Food Security Minister Syed Fakhar Imam announced on Friday.

Earlier, the government had set the support price at Rs1,650 per 40 kilogrammes. The decision to increase the rate by Rs150 per 40 kilogrammes was taken in a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The food minister has been advocating for the increase in the wheat support price in meetings of Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and the federal cabinet but other ministers, particularly those from the urban areas, were opposing the proposal saying that it would spur inflation.

“The increase in minimum support price will benefit the local farmers, who are playing critical role in the provision of food grains to a large population of the country, besides providing raw material for industrial sector and employing skilled and sami-skilled work force,” the minister said.

The food minister told reporters that the meeting also decided to import about 300,000 tons of wheat in order to supplement the domestic stocks to keep the local demand and supply smooth throughout the year.

“Besides the wheat import, the government will keep 1 million tons in strategic reserves,” he said. “We have finalised the estimates of import and managing the situation in a coordinated way so that the consumers face no shortage of wheat at any time,” Imam said.

Imam said that this year 26.2 million tons wheat production is expected, compared with 25.2 million tons last year. “Estimates show that Punjab will grow 19.08 million tons, Sindh 4.02 million tons and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan’s combined production will be 9.2 million tons,” he added.

A reserve of 300,000 tons of wheat has already been ensured, for which the Trading Corporation of Pakistan issued tenders in August. With this, the country will have in its stock 30 million tons of wheat including 1 million tons as strategic reserve, Imam explained.

Imam said that when the support price was being fixed last time, the Sindh government had not submitted its recommendations, and when the federal government fixed the price at Rs1,650 in early stage, Sindh announced the price of Rs2,000.

“For the first time in the history, a province has not fulfilled its constitutional responsibility. Today, all the provinces are on the same page except Sindh,” he added.

Punjab Food Minister Aleem Khan, who was also present at the news conference, urged the Sindh government to honour its promise to the farmers, and arrange procurement of wheat at Rs2,000 per 40kgs.

Khan termed the federal government’s decision to enhance the minimum support price “historic” and said that it was a big incentive to the farmers who were the backbone of the country’s economy.

He said that the Punjab government has so far given subsidy of Rs80 billion to keep the price of wheat flour at Rs860 per 20kgs in the province. “As per the directives of the prime minister, the provincial government will continue the subsidy to ensure the wheat flour rate is maintained.

He announced that the provincial government will keep supplying wheat to flour mills on subsidised rates. “The release of wheat is usually suspended for one month when the procurement drive is in full swing. Except for one month, wheat will be continued to be supplied to flour mills,” he said.

The Punjab minister said that the production of wheat in the country does not commensurate with the demand. “Not a single grain of wheat was smuggled last year, and the entire stock was consumed and not smuggled,” he said.

Imam said that the prime minister has issued directives for keeping a check on the smuggling of wheat. “Every humanly possible step will be taken by the government to check the smuggling of wheat,” he added.

The Punjab minister asked the farmers to bring their wheat crop to the designated centres from where they will be paid in cash for their crop. He added that there is no need to get support from middleman. The provincial government is bringing reforms to eliminate the role of middleman.