LAHORE: Rice output in Punjab is likely to fall nearly six percent to 3.3 million tons during the current crop year of 2016/17 as the sowing area in the province touched decade-low levels, government projected on Saturday. In the last crop season, rice output was recorded at 3.5 million tons in the province, accounting for more than half of the country’s total outputs.
Official figures showed that area under rice cultivation plummeted to 1.70 million hectares in the current agriculture year, which was the lowest sowing area in the past 10 years. In 2007/08, the acreage was recorded at 1.72 million hectares. In 2015/16, paddy was planted on around 1.78 million hectares. Overall, rice acreage fell 4.7 percent in the current season over the previous year. Rice was planted on 1.78 million hectares in 2015/16 as against 1.87 million hectares in 2014/15, showing a 5.2 percent decline. Pakistan’s Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA) has set 2016-17 (July – June) rice production (milled basis) target at around 6.83 million tons from around 2.8 million hectares.
An expected crop shortage has already ignited a price hike at the local markets. Wholesale price of new milled rice rose to Rs80-85/kilogram from Rs55-60/kg last year. Usually, milled rice wholesale prices came down to Rs50-60/kg with the advent of paddy harvesting. “This time around, soaring prices have baffled traders,” a trader said. “Low output forecast further aggravated the situation.” During the last decade, rice sowing area in the province ranges between 1.70 million and 1.97 million hectares. Acreage shrinkage was observed in the last couple of years. Over the past two-year alone, sowing area shrank approximately 10 percent. In 2014-15, paddy output stood at 3.64 million tons, down four percent over the previous year. An official said farmers are getting low returns owing to a huge carryover stocks. Besides, better profits on fodder and other competitive crops encouraged farmers to switch to those crops.
“Erratic monsoon rainfalls were also one of the reasons of a relatively low output,” he added. Rice, being one of the staple foods, is cash crop of Pakistan. Fed on the western rivers, Punjab is blessed with the biggest rice producing belt of the country, occupying a major chunk of total national cropped area. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in a report released in July, raised Pakistan’s exports forecast for 2016/17 by 0.1 million tons to 4.5 million tons on a stronger pace of trade only if the country achieves rice production of seven million tons.