Although Pakistan is globally ranked ninth in rice production, it claims fourth position as a rice exporter after India, Vietnam, and Thailand.

This financial year ending on June 30, rice exports from Pakistan may touch the 5.8 million tonnes mark, a fraction short of the magical 6m tonnes figure, mainly because of favourable weather, availability of farm inputs, and the Indian ban on non-Basmati rice exports.

Data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics suggests that rice exports crossed the 5m tonne mark in 10 months (July-April FY24), earning $3.4 billion, compared to 3.2m tonne exports worth $1.8bn made during the corresponding period last year.

This phenomenal achievement has been made possible due to a 32 per cent volumetric increase in exports of non-Basmati and a 24pc increase in Basmati. On average, the Basmati export price during the 10 months remained $1,141 per tonne and non-Basmati $573 per tonne.

An official of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) says they expect a slight slowdown in rice exports due to diminishing stocks of non-Basmati. Therefore, it will be difficult to touch the magical figure of 6m tonne in the next two months.

Rice exports cross 5m tonnes in 10 months, earning $3.4bn, owing to favourable weather, hybrid seeds, and the Indian export ban

He says the country has an ample stock of Kainat Basmati — the main Basmati variety exported from Pakistan. Still, due to the lower Indian price (the average Indian Basmati export price was $1,115 per tonne), its export got a rude shock due to 24pc less Brown Basmati import this season by the European Union and the UK.

Non-Basmati Indian exports nosedived to less than 1m tonnes in volume this year from 16.4m tonnes a year earlier. Indian rice traders termed the export ban imposed by the Modi government as a political rather than a commercial decision. El Nino, fear of political fallout, inflation and general elections were put forward as the major reasons behind the move despite a more than historical, current buffer stock of 54m tonnes against the approved limit of 14m tonnes.

However, Indian Basmati exports touched a new high of 5.2m tonnes from April 2023 to March 2024 (Indian financial year) despite strong tailwinds in the early part of the Kharif 2023 season, such as devastating floods in the Indian Punjab, and strong headwinds, such as the compelling Ukraine war and Red Sea disturbances.

Pakistan Basmati rice export during the corresponding period (April 2023 to March 2024) has been 0.73m tonnes which is 14pc of Indian Basmati export. But Pakistan’s per tonne earning was $1,137, which is 3pc higher than Indian price.

‘This can be called the second green revolution in Pakistan after the first in the 1960s by the introduction of Irri varieties in rice and imported wheat seed’

Total global Basmati trade from Pakistan and India touched new heights of almost 6m tonnes compared to 0.529m tonnes last year. Global Basmati volume earlier never crossed the 0.53m tonne mark.

West Asia, comprising Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, showed a remarkable 40pc Basmati imports during the period. Africa has also improved its Basmati import over the last 10 years, though Pakistani exporters are not paying attention to the continent due to the poverty assumptions and low per capita income. From April 2023 to March 2024, Basmati exports to Africa increased by 20pc, reaching almost 200,000 tonnes at a $1,058 per tonne rate.

Founder and Chairman of the Agri Policy Research Institute Hamid Malik believes the country’s phenomenal achievement in rice exports has been made possible due to paddy growers’ resilience, favourable weather, availability of inputs, new hybrid seed development by the public and private sectors, support by the banking sector, and REAP’s leadership in promoting and protecting the rice export sector through the legal battle on Basmati geographical indications.

“If I single out one major factor for this phenomenal performance in the last 10 years, I will select the development of long-grain hybrid seed by Pakistan’s private sector. This can be called the second green revolution in Pakistan after the first in the 1960s by the introduction of Irri varieties in rice and imported wheat seed.”

He regrets that Pakistani exporters are failing to exploit the Basmati market in Yemen and Iraq due to the lack of a formal banking channel. He says that a couple of local exporters had dared to tap the Yemeni market, but their payments got stuck there, discouraging others from chartering the country’s waters, which relies heavily on Turk and Indian exports. He says that the Basmati variety of rice is also gaining currency in Iraq, which imports at least 0.7m tonne per annum from India.

Mr Malik seconds the view that rice exports will slow down due to deteriorating non-Basmati stocks in two months. Still, he believes that a robust demand from Indonesia, the Philippines, and West Africa will support its exports. “Basmati sector demand in West Asia will remain strong, and Pakistan may finish this fiscal year with 750,000 to 800,000-tonne exports, a possible increase of 35-40pc.”

But there is a flip side to this situation that will be revealed from surplus Basmati stocks, which are much higher even for this year and next year of local consumption and a flood of hybrid rice next season, says Imran Sheikh, a rice exporter. If India lifts the non-Basmati rice export ban after the election, it will be catastrophic for the Pakistani farmers, who are likely to grow more non-Basmati rice than market appetite next season, he fears.

He calls for the development of local hybrid seed varieties instead of multiplying Chinese seeds. He argues that this factor should be included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor phase II. He also calls for paying attention to the repercussions of record pesticide interceptions in our Basmati shipments, especially in the EU and UK.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 27th, 2024

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