LAHORE: Punjab has, so far, planted rice seedlings on 70 per cent of its targeted five million acres and hopes to see the crop going beyond the target by far like the last year.
In the previous season, the province had fixed the target of 4.5 million acres and ended up sowing paddy crop at 5.9m acres.
Planners think that the figure may go beyond the five million mark and they are certain that it would touch even the last year’s figures because sugarcane has hogged much larger area this season. Sugarcane was sown over 19.20m acres last year and it jumped to 21.40m acres this year.
Rice plantation, traditionally concentrated between the second week of July and second week of August, has been pushed earlier because of changes to climate and crop pattern in Punjab and water availability issues.
Explaining the change, Abad Khan — a rice grower in Sheikhupura — says that the farmers who want to sow wheat early go for early plantation of rice. Similarly, potato farmers also need fields free in next four months and time for land preparation. Climate change is facilitating early plantation as well.
“Like, there were no traditional dry, hot winds that historically threatened burning of nurseries. The winds in June this year were much less hotter and even less dry. These factors are pushing sowing time back by two weeks. In the next few years, rice plantation time would certainly be redefined with changing weather pattern,” Khan says.
On fixing the target of five million acres, whereas the province had actually sown rice on close to six million acres, an officer of the Punjab government, who is involved in the planning, says that Punjab, as a matter of policy, is discouraging water guzzling crops like sugarcane and rice.
“However, beyond fixing the sowing targets lies the economic reality of the crops. Regardless of official preference, cane and rice are on the rise. Both crops have beaten cotton out of existence and are now on the roll even core cotton areas. The Central Punjab has already fallen to them and south Punjab is under threat. Both are now competing with each other for acreage. But, the pattern is not sustainable because they play havoc to aquifer, which the province cannot afford,” the officer explains.
It is not only water issue but varietal as well, according to Shahzad Malik, who trades in rice and seed and their export as well. The hybrid varieties are claiming more and more area with every passing year. They now cover around 20pc of the area and threatening basmati (Pakistan’s premium product and its recognition in the high-end markets) variety. Even within basmati, there are many varieties doing rounds in the market. Pakistan has already lost the cotton battle, if not war, because of chaotic seed sector.
“Basmati rice variety may be next to go if Pakistan does not deal with double jeopardy; the rise of hybrid rice on the one hand and invasion of seeds of disputed parentage and performance on the other,” Malik warns.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2021