LAHORE: Farmers fears are growing for the rice acreage and production this year as exceptionally dry weather, right up to the start of July, hindered transplantation of nursery and most of them now claim that though water shortages have ended, their rice nursery has already turned “over-aged and weak,” which may hit the national yield figures.

“This would ultimately hit the yield, where nursery is to be shifted to field in the next fortnight or so,” apprehends Abad Khan, a rice farmer from central Punjab.

“Yes, water is now available, but what about damage already done?” he adds.

“Even now, a farmer gets an irrigation turn every week and the canal water hardly covers one-third of the paddy field during that one turn, so he has to wait for a week to have it again. So, the farmers have to mobilise all their financial and irrigation resources to shift the nursery. This is what is being hampered because of rising cost of diesel, unreliable supply of electricity and increasing investment in fertiliser. When nursery was planted between May 15 and June 30, the province was suffering almost 50 per cent water shortage – keeping the nursery under-fed and weak. It all happened after nursery was hit by problems like absence of better seed and farmers are not trained for new technologies like mechanised direct-seeded rice (DSR), which saves water as well as labour cost,” says Raja Ghazanfar – a farmer in the core belt of central Punjab.

“Expect substantial decrease in cultivation area and, naturally, production this year,” he warns.

Anticipating these problems, Punjab has already revised its acreage and yield targets for the year. It foresaw some 21pc decrease in the rice cultivation area – dropping from 6.31 million acres last year to only five million acres this year. For yield, it is expecting 4.70m tonnes this year against 5.77m tonnes last year – a drop of over one million tonnes. The province, however, expects a slight improvement in per acre yield and sees it hitting 23.53 maunds per acre – an increase of around three per cent. The farmers, however, fear further shrinking of both – acreage and yield.

According to the growers’ opinion survey, which provides early clue to acreage trend of any crop in the province, Punjab now sees seven to eight per cent drop in farmers’ preference for rice crop this year.

The Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA) had, early this year, fixed national rice production target of 8.6m tonnes and hoped to harvest the crop from 3.1m hectares. The province contributes over 85pc of the national production, but is seeing decreasing trend in area this year.

Rice contributes 3.5pct of value addition in agriculture and 0.7pc of the gross domestic product (GDP). Last year, a record production growth of 13.6pc was witnessed, which essentially came from increased domestic price due to increasing demand for export. Pakistan is among top ten producers of rice in the world and contributes around eight per cent to world rice trade.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2022

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