SUSTAINABLE growth in food crops is crucial to feed the fast-expanding local food industry and boost export earnings.

“We’re conscious of such considerations and are trying to ensure that food crops output keeps growing consistently,” says a senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR).

And, since this objective cannot be achieved without increasing the per-hectare yields, ‘emphasis is being placed on finding ways for it which also include development of new, high-yielding seed varieties and improving farm productivity by other means, like better pre-and-post harvest losses etc’.


Hybrid varieties were expected to yield up to 3,450kg per hectare output but in most cases actual yields have not exceeded 3,300kg


In case of rice, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council approved - in the middle of last year - seven hybrid and four open-pollinated (OP) paddy seeds for cultivation, with the hope that these would help boost rice production. Farmers say some of these varieties have come under commercial use and are giving higher per-hectare yield than traditional non-Basmati Irri varieties.

Hybrid varieties were expected to yield up to 3,450kg per hectare output but in most cases actual yields have not exceeded 3,300kg. Progressive farmers say, even at this level, these varieties are worth cultivating. But availability of certified seeds is a big challenge.

The four OP varieties of paddy, now under commercial cultivation in the second year in a row, are believed to be better than the existing Irri-6 and KSK-133 varieties not only in per-hectare yield but also in submergence, salinity and water-stress aspects of the crop.

Officials of MNSFR say they hope that the output of non-Basmati rice would continue to grow largely due to the newly released hybrid and OP varieties.

Officials say total production of rice during the current fiscal year has been estimated at 6.64m tonnes, down 2.5pc from 6.81m tonnes a year ago due to a slight fall in the area under cultivation primarily in Punjab but also in Sindh.

Per-hectare yields of non-basmati rice varieties have reportedly enhanced rice output by 3.6pc in Sindh. Analysis of data reveals that is merely a reflection of as much increase in the area under rice cultivation there.

But officials of the provincial agriculture department also attribute it to the use of some of the newly developed non-basmati varieties.

Rice dealers say long-grain PK386, (the most popular non-basmati rice in the country), KS-82 and long-grain Irri-6 and Irri-9 continue to dominate domestic rice markets and also have a big share in exports.

And while non-basmati rice varieties developed in last few years have gained growers’ attention, their output has so far not reached the levels to excite traders particularly those who make bulk purchases on behalf of exporters.

But agricultural officials have something else to say: except for a few aggressive exporters, most of them are too lazy to introduce new rice varieties in international markets at feasible prices.

Discarding the notion that the newly introduced varieties never produce enough for domestic marketing, they point out that output of non-Basmati and non-Irri soared past 2.3m tonnes in the last fiscal year, from less than 1.7m tonnes in FY12. This huge increase of 600,000 tonnes in just four years owes greatly to new varieties of non-basmati varieties, they say.

Even per-hectare yield of non-basmati, non-Irri varieties rose faster between FY12 and FY16 (from less than 2850kg to well above 3400kg) compared with the average yield of basmati (from 1711kg to a little over 1800kg), officials of MNSFR say.

Average yield of Irri varieties, on the other hand, fell from 3184kg to less than 2800kg). The FY16 figures are estimated and yet to be finalised and released publicly. But these estimates are least likely to show any major variance, officials say.

They say that behind constant experiments on non-basmati new varieties lies the fact that our Irri varieties are not showing enough growth in per-hectare yield and all new non-basmati varieties are basically improved versions of Irri varieties in one way or the other.

“In some cases, they consume less water; in other cases they can be cultivated in saline water or in most cases their grains are more weighty or long and boost the yield,” according to one official familiar with rice research.

Larger production of non-basmati rice has also led to its increased exports and higher forex earnings. And had this not been the case, the rice sector would have been in real trouble due to declining exports of basmati.

As shown in the table, exports of non-Basmati rice have risen by over a million tonnes in the last five years whereas exports of Basmati have declined by 450,000 tonnes.

“Had there not been a phenomenal growth in domestic consumption of basmati (as dining out culture is growing), rice millers producing basmati brands would have felt the pinch of declining exports too hard,” says an official of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan.

“This is one aspect. But, another aspect is that had we not been able to export more of non-Basmati rice in these years, it would have been a disaster for the industry.”

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, February 13th, 2017

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