The paddy crop in Sindh is facing multiple problems that are leading to productivity losses in northern parts of the province.

The otherwise bumper crop that is cultivated on over 770,000 hectares has been hit by temperature variations in the right-bank districts.

The entire right-bank strip from Dadu to Kashmore is home to paddy cultivation in the Kharif season. Many paddy growers in upper Sindh say the temperature variation is causing sterility in the crop, which will lead to zero grain formation.

“The early sowing of the hybrid variety failed to sustain the temperature variation experienced in September. The hybrid variety needs a low temperature at the time of flowering,” says Ashraf Soomro, director of the Dokri Rice Research Institute of the Sindh Agriculture Department.

Agriculture officials confirmed that the Sindh agriculture secretary has called for conducting a survey to assess losses in the paddy crop. According to Sindh Agriculture Extension Director General Hidayatullah Chhajro, the survey is underway in the right-bank districts and its result will soon be available with the department.

A team from Dokri’s research institute recently visited the districts in upper Sindh to determine the cause of sterility. According to one member of the team, it was caused by a rise in temperature between Sept 3 and 12. Paddy needs a temperature of less than 30 degrees at night, but it remained close to 49 degrees during this period. The quantum of losses may vary, he says, but it can be as high as 90 per cent in some cases.

The rice crop is hit by temperature variations in the right-bank districts of Sindh

Paddy grower Ameer Bux Pahore says sterility as well as a rice blast fungicide and an attack by leaf folders have led to crop losses. “Intense heat in the maturity stage has badly damaged the crop. I had obtained a yield of 70 maunds per acre last year in the hybrid variety. But this year, I got only 33 maunds per care from the same piece of land (owing to this problem),” Mr Pahore added.

Paddy growers like Nadeem Shah from lower Sindh say their region also witnessed the temperature problem on a smaller scale. “Rains have also damaged our paddy crop in Badin and Thatta districts,” Mr Shah says.

Sindh’s growers grow mostly coarse and hybrid varieties whereas Punjab’s farmers are inclined to basmati, which is unique in terms of aroma, texture and the elongation ratio. Post-cooking rice elongation is an important factor. Basmati rice is a luxury item and has a greater export value. According a rice exporter, its export value is around three times higher than those of other varieties.

The trend of the imported hybrid variety continued in Sindh for several years. Sindh’ local varieties like DR82, 83 and 92 have taken a back seat. But a veteran paddy grower Gada Hussain Mahesar considers the hybrid variety the main culprit in this year’s temperature-related losses.

He says market dealers sell the imported variety claiming that it is imported from China. In reality though, he says, it’s a mixture of different varieties that is sold in the garb of the hybrid variety. He says the hybrid variety is on 75pc of the area under cultivation in Sindh whereas local varieties are grown on the rest of the 25pc of land. “Most hybrid varieties are unregistered. This variety is exported to African countries because other nations don’t opt for it,” he says.

In the last season (2018-19), the crop missed the sowing target by 10.36pc. It grew on 690,224ha against the target of 770,000ha. A year before (2017-18) Sindh had surpassed the sowing and production targets by 10.44pc and 9.6pc, respectively.

This year, growers sowed the hybrid variety early (June) although it is a late-grown variety. Farmers prefer the hybrid variety to Sindh’s indigenous varieties for higher productivity because the former offers greater yield potential. But the over-reliance of growers on the hybrid variety is not going down well with veteran paddy growers like Mr Mahesar.

Sindh leads in the per-hectare paddy yield by 42pc (3,441kg per hectare) as the national yield is 2,423kg per hectare, according to provincial agriculture officials. Sindh contributes 28.6pc to the total area of paddy crop and 40.6pc to national rice production as per 2017-18 figures issued by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

Within Sindh, Irri varieties are cultivated on 43pc of the total paddy acreage. It contributes 55pc to the national acreage. Out of Sindh’s total rice production, the share of Irri varieties is 30.8pc. It is 49.3 pc nationally.

Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (Reap) Chairman Shahjahan Malik says the association is poised to double rice exports in terms of tonnage in the next five years. If farmers in Sindh start using laser land levellers and adopt better harvest practices, they can substantially increase their paddy production, he adds.

He called for the enhanced use of laser land levellers to save water. Growers need to give up the use of harvesters for paddy as it is more suited for wheat thrashing, he said. The harvester causes losses of around 5pc in yields, he added.

When the private sector was allowed to export rice in 1998-99, the value of Pakistan’s rice exports was only $300 million, according to Reap. But its members managed to export over 4m tonnes of rice amounting to more than $2bn a year until 2008-09.

Rice is a high-delta crop requiring plenty of water from sowing to harvesting. Uneven farmlands need more water. But the use of equipment like laser levellers ensures uniformity in water distribution and saves around 30-40pc of irrigation water. The equipment is being distributed on a cost-sharing basis under Rs18bn foreign-funded Sindh Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October 7th, 2019