Rice productivity and
By Zafar Samdani
US agriculture authorities and researchers are reported to
have estimated a jump in rice production in Pakistan from
about 4.50 million tons to 5.4 m tones because of higher
productivity, increased acreage under the crop and favourable
weather conditions for the crop. This has raised the prospects
of a one billion dollar return from rice exports.
estimates and expectations would come true but there is little
reason to expect that the progress can be sustained as ground
conditions do not hold much promise for continuous higher
produce and extending cultivation area every year has to be
ruled out in view of diminishing water resources, inefficient
and superannuated sowing and harvesting practices and limited
availability of land.
These are professional factors. No less important is the
social and economic aspect of the crop, indeed of all crops of
the country: what benefit growers receive when the crop is
high? The answer is: nothing reportable. If anything better
yield becomes instrumental in intensifying exploitation of
their labour. The middlemen start a waiting game for picking
up the produce and push farmers into a situation where he is
left with no option but to sell at the price dictated by the
market for they have no means for storing the produce and they
cannot afford to delay the sale as money is needed for the
While support price does not really change market pressure, it
is nevertheless a starting point for negotiating the sale.
Officials concede that support prices for most crops are not
commensurate with the investment of the grower. Growers accept
the support price because they have no option: there is but
one outlet and they cannot shut the door on it. Consequently,
whatever the worth of the support price, it assists growers to
get returns on their labour that are not excessively
exploitative. This year, the government withdrew even this fig
leaf of support from growers.
Price per 40 kg of basmati rice was Rs415 last year, up from
Rs400 from the previous year, the raise reflecting the
generosity of the government and its concern for the farmers.
The time between the last and the current crop has been marked
by high inflation and considerable hike in cost of inputs in
the agriculture sector. Prices of diesel, fertilizer,
electricity, etc, have all shot up; the cost of living has
been inevitably been pushed quite a few notches.
These conditions justified an upward review of the support
price but the authorities, in their absolute and
unchallengeable wisdom decided to ignore the issue. The
support price of basmati rice has thus remained unchanged. One
can trust arhties for negotiating hard with farmers to sell at
even lower rates than the last year. The last yearís price
grossly undermined the interests of the farming community and
the current year has been worse.
There is little hope for further improvement in yield per
acre. Cultivation practices are age-old and farmers-they may
be alive to the need for modernizing their act, lack financial
means and knowledge for entering the contemporary era of
agriculture. They practice transplanting of the crop in a
manner that does not make for yield increase.
The method introduced by the Chinese that increases plant
population in the fields has tried on a limited level but it
has not been promoted on a large enough scale to change the
landscape. The Chinese technology is thus an academic toy with
the authorities and remains short of effective utilization.
Why is it? So is anybodyís guess because equipment is simple
and can be inexpensively produced locally. Farmers would not
require any elaborate training for conversion to this
According to a report, a Jesuit priest in India came up with
the idea some time back that transplantation should be carried
out with soil on the roots of plant when sowing is done
because that would ensure the right depth for the paddy.
Traditional transplantation results in uneven sowing and the
plantís generation takes more time. Many Indian farmers are
said to have adopted this practice with rewarding results. It
is said that this is producing at least 50 per cent higher
This may be an exaggeration but there can be no harm in
experimenting with the method and if it proves successful,
adopting it in Pakistan too. The Agriculture Departments of
Punjab and Sindh, the two rice-producing provinces can
experiment. But it is a question if they have this
One of the basic inputs is becoming scarcer by the day. Water
resources are diminishing fast and plans for enhancing water
availability remain in limbo for political reasons. But
experts of the government can guide farmers in applying less
water without undermining the productivity of the crop.
Approximately 12, 000 cubic meter water is applied for
producing one ton of rice; experts say that this quantity is
about double the requirement of the crop.
The Extension wings of provincial agriculture set up are
apparently either not pushed or , for some reason or the
other, they are not in a position to provide the required
advice to farmers. Excessive irrigation of the crop may have
something to do with distrust in water availability between
provinces. That makes it a political issue that the present
government is not in a position to resolve.
Many problems of the sector are linked with political
conditions in the country and are unlikely to be resolved in
the present dispensation, not that political governments
performed better on this front. Still, one can expect
acceptance of realities by them while this has to be ruled out
at this point in time.
Many factors undermine productivity in the sector.
Exploitation by middle men and exporters by delaying the
purchase of the crop to bring down its price is one.
Inefficient cultivation practices is another. Lack of research
hampers growth. Finishing and packaging of rice for exports is
also on the way of higher exports.
Some exporterís are aware of this handicap and have improved
their facilities and technical level but there are many who
simply export the commodity to top importers in Dubai where
Indian exporters properly treat it and export it as Indian
But the most serious issue is ignoring the interest of the
farmer. There cannot possibly be any notable change in the
scene unless the growerís interests are protected and they are
treated equitably. The support price of the crop should have
Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) should have been
instructed to intervene on behalf of the farmer as it was
asked to do in the case of cotton, not that it brought any
windfall to farmers but it helped to small extent. The basic
requirements of rice crop are bringing efficiency to farming
practices and ensuring that producers are properly paid for