Research necessary to compete globally in rice production


Shahzad Ali Malik was awarded Sitar-e-Imtiaz for introducing hybrid rice in Pakistan that gave more than double the per acre yield of IRRI (coarse rice) in the country in two decades. He says that during the same period, the productivity of basmati rice declined by 40 percent as its research was in the hands of state rice research institutes. Here are excerpts from his interview with The News.

Q. What is the reason for sustained export growth in coarse rice?

A. Exports of coarse rice produced in Sindh were not affected even when global commodity rates were very low. Only the exports of basmati rice are declining. Coarse rice exports survived bad times because its productivity has more than doubled from 40 maunds per acre to over 80 maunds per acre. We introduced Chinese hybrid rice seeds in Pakistan in late 19990s.

Later the technology was transferred by the Chinese to our company. We established our research centre that is run by Chinese scientists along with Pakistani PhDs. Our researchers introduced high yielding seeds that produce 120 maunds of rice per acre. This is higher than even the productivity in China. In fact our Chinese principles have started importing some of our high yield hybrid rice seeds. High yield has reduced the cost of production of the farmers and their produce is competitive globally. This is the reason that coarse rice exports are on rise. Our productivity in coarse rice is higher than that of India.

Q. What are the reasons of decline in Basmati rice exports?

A. As far as basmati is concerned, the government rice research institutes did a commendable job in the 80s to introduce many high yielding varieties. In view of this, the private sector left the research on basmati to the government sector. However, during the last two decades, not a single basmati variety has been introduced. The last variety, introduced more than 20 years back, is losing its productivity, as its yield has declined from 50 maunds per acre to 25-30 maunds per acre.

The Indians in the meantime introduced many high yielding long grain rice varieties that look like basmati. The per acre yield of their best long grain variety exceeds 50 maunds per acre. The Indian thus are more competitive than Pakistan in long grain rice variety. Five years back, when our per acre yield of long grain basmati rice was higher, we quoted $100-150 per maund less than the Indians, now it is reverse.

Q. Is the Indian long grain rice not basmati?

A. Basmati is a combination of two words ‘bas’ that means aroma, and ‘mati’ which means soil. Basmati is the aromatic rice of the soil around our central Punjab rice belt. Long grain rice otherwise is produced in many countries. Iran for instance also produced long grain rice so does the United States. Those addicted to basmati with its peculiar aroma do not buy other long grain rice that lacks this aroma. This is the reason that despite high price, basmati exports is still on. We have however lost market to Indians where consumers are not concerned with aroma but simply want long grain rice.

Q. What should be done to further enhance coarse rice exports?

A. The government should strictly regulate the import of hybrid seeds. There are 54 suppliers of hybrid rice seeds in Pakistan, including four or five reputable multinationals. But there are many importers that supply substandard seeds that result in crop failures and huge loss to the farmers. The hybrid rice has alleviated poverty in Sindh and substandard seeds sales, if not checked would bring back poverty for some farmers.

The farmers must be encouraged to go for hybrid varieties as the yield of non-hybrid seeds is very low. The average of our rice hybrid seed is 120 maunds per acre. The yield of other hybrids, imported or locally produced, is 80-100 maunds per acre. The more we grow the higher will be our exports.

Q. How can the basmati exports increase?

A. We have little expectations of high yield basmati varieties being introduced by the public sector research institutes, since they are not active. On the other hand, research in private sector has just started, and it will take some years before high yielding varieties are introduced. The best chance to boost exports now is to include rice in the five products that Iran will allow at zero duty in the upcoming FTA with Iran.


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