LAHORE: The growers’ fast switching to high-yielding hybrid rice varieties to make quick huge profits in the recent years has not only affected production of other major crops — cotton and sugarcane — but also hit exports of basmati rice.
The hybrid rice sowing in Punjab has consumed around 15 per cent of the total cultivated area of basmati rice this year due to higher profitability as its per acre yield ranges between 140 to 150 maund. Whereas basmati rice farmers, according to exporters, reap 35 to 40 maund from an acre.
Similarly, the per acre income of basmati rice produce comes to Rs70,000 to Rs80,000 while the hybrid rice saving is almost double — Rs140,000 to Rs150,000. “Given the higher profitability, the rice farmers are turning to hybrid variety and it is but natural,” a miller said.
Rice is a major export from Pakistan which fetched $2.04 billion last year, down from $2.2bn a year before. Exporters say the decline was driven by reduction in export of basmati rice which dipped to $650m from $800m owing to cultivation of hybrid rice sowing and other issues.
According to the rice millers and exporters, the overall area under rice cultivation has increased to 5.5 million acres this year from 4.7-4.8 million acres in 2019. The major increase has come from south Punjab where growers are switching from cotton and sugarcane crops to rice.
“Again, the rice crop makes more economic sense for farmers from south Punjab because of greater profitability. Besides, the rice crop cycle spans over 90-95 days, shorter than the competing crops,” the rice miller argued.
However, for the last couple of year, the rice sowing area is increasing as the farmers in various parts, including the cotton belt area (south Punjab) are switching fast to the basmati (irri) rice including the hybrid on several chunks of land.
Talking to Dawn, a former agriculture department’s director general (extension), said the increasing cultivation of rice is reducing produce of the cotton and other crops.
“The trend of Irri (basmati) and hybrid rice sowing is promoting fast as due to crop produce cycles and weather situation, the farmers are cultivating and getting produce of the Irri first,” the former DG Zafar Yab told Dawn. After harvesting Irri crop, the farmers are sowing the hybrid rice seed and get production within a period of 90 days.
Mr Yab said the cotton sowing area in Punjab has been reduced to 3.2 million acre from 6.2 million acres due to various issues (pesticides, seeds, weather conditions, deceases etc) as it clearly shows how the farmers are switching to other crops, especially the rice.
Talking to Dawn, Agriculture Department Secretary Asad Ur Rehman Gilani said this year Pakistan would have to face a tough competition in the rice export market. “Last year, the India’s rice export was adversely affected by the Covid-19 spread and lockdowns. But this year they (the Indian exporters) are in and we have to compete them,” Mr Gilani said.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2021