RICE growers in Sindh expect a bumper crop this season as the province has surpassed the sowing target by up to 80,000 hectares thanks to timely supplies of irrigation water in early May.
The increase in acreage has been witnessed in the upper Sindh, mainly in districts located on the right bank of the Indus river.
These areas are fed by non-perennial off-taking canals of Sukkur and Guddu barrages, which supply water only in the summer.
Growers say such water supplies are unusual in the right-bank districts, which normally get water flows in late May or early June.
However, while water was available in the irrigation channels emanating from the right side of the Sukkur barrage in May, tail-end farmers of these canals are still facing water shortage, irrigation officials say.
This is primarily due to the fact that these canals have become heavily silted over the years, and with no massive desilting drive in sight the situation is only going to get worse.
Moreover, while flows in each canal are at the maximum level, actual discharges remain inadequate, hence shortage in tail-end reaches.
The provincial government fixed the sowing target for rice at 750,000 hectares this season, the same level compared to a year ago.
Significant increase in acreage has been witnessed in Badin, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Shikarpur and Larkana
Significant increase in acreage has been witnessed in Badin, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Shikarpur and Larkana. All these districts except Badin are located on the right bank of the Indus river.
Rice has been sown on 155,000 hectares in Badin and on 114,000 hectares in Jacobabad.
However, some farmers are not happy about the price they get. Fahad Panhwar, a rice grower from Jacobabad, says the cost of production varies between Rs25,000 and Rs30,000 per acre while the yield comes to around 75 maunds for irri-6. Farmers then sell it for Rs900 per 40kg, he says.
Mahmood Molvi, chairman of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan, points out that hybrid seeds give higher per-acre yields. Some seeds categorised as F1 and F2 led to drop in yields last year, but the crop’s outlook has improved this year, he says. “I myself have grown rice on 400 acres in Shikarpur.”
A farmer from upper region’s Qambar-Shahdadkot district says growers are also sowing late hybrid varieties, therefore the transplantation of crop from nurseries is still under way.
Luckily, areas fed by distributaries like Noorpur, Dhori, Patoja, Shahhan of the Saifullah Magsi canal in Shahdadkot district and adjoining areas started getting adequate water flows as early as April 28 which helped farmers prepare nurseries, he adds. “We are better off in terms of water supplies this year after a long time.”
Another reason for increased rice cultivation is a decline in the acreage of sunflower crop in upper Sindh. In Shikarpur district, rice sowing has increased due to a World Bank-funded agriculture project under which growers are getting implements to improve per-acre productivity.
Similarly, the rice acreage in lower Sindh’s Badin district, which is fed by Kotri barrage canals, increased by up to 40,000 hectares as farmers who could not grow cotton and chilli in early Kharif due to the unavailability of water switched over to rice. Early Kharif sowing for cotton begins in March and April in lower Sindh.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture’s general secretary says pest attacks are frequently being reported and cloudy weather remains unfavourable for crop as it affects grain formation.
In the December-January period, rice millers bought the irri-6 variety for Rs750 to Rs850 per 40kg and basmati for Rs1,600 per 40kg, he says. However, basmati’s rate increased to Rs2,400 per 40kg later on due to better export demand.
Figures for the actual rice acreage will still be higher if its cultivation in prohibited areas of Sindh is taken into account.
Though cultivation is banned in areas fed by left bank’s perennial canals of Sukkur and Guddu barrages like Rohri, Nara and Ghotki feeder canal, influential landowners still cultivate crops on these lands.
While the crop sown on this area does not reflect in official estimates, it eventually finds its way to the market.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 28th, 2017