Rice crop is of great economic importance for Pakistan, as it is second staple food after wheat, and is second to cotton as foreign exchange earner In 1997-98, Pakistan exported rice worth over US$550 million and there is a great potential of increasing foreign exchange earnings badly needed for the country Necessarily, all-out efforts should be made to increase the export to $700 million and first then to one billion. It is not difficult to achieve these targets provided we increase per acre yield and improve the quality of exportable rice. To improve the quality and sale at high price per unit, the Government has made some structural and administrative changes in monitoring the purity of exportable rice. These changes involve analysis of rice of different varieties by the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REACP) and fixing the minimum export price. The REAP has proved its performance by checking the quality of brown rice exported to Europe in 1996-97. The confidence of rice importers in quality of Pa kistani rice is gradually building up and exports are steadily increasing.
In the last 50 years, Pakistan achieved phenomenal increase in rice production. In 1947, the area under rice in Pakistan was arounds 8,56,000 hectares which in 1998 reached or 2.4 million hectares. The rice production during this period increased from 737,000 to 4.6 million tonne. Thus area increased by 3 times, but the production increased by 6 times. Although, increased area contributed to increased production but significant increase in per acre yield was brought about by the development of high yielding varieties, improved agronomic practices supported with fertilizers and plant protection measures.
To improve further the per acre yield and overall rice production, some suggestions are given below:
1. Reclamation of Saline Alkaline Soils: Pakistan is located in semi-arid region where the evaporation of subsoil water bring up the salts to the soil surface. Therefore rescuing the soils from the ill-effects of salts remain a continuous process and the already salt-ridden areas need special reclamation measures by using good quality irrigation water and soil amendments such as gypsum and sulfuric acid. The government help is solicited in making available the gypsum at cheaper price affordable by the growers.
2. Shortage of Irrigation Water: Satisfactory yields cannot be obtained without assured water supply throughout the rice season. Our canal supplies depend on rains. The farmers sow rice nurseries in time but for land preparation they have to wait for man soon rains which are erratic with regard to amount, time and distribution The optimum age for sowing nurseries is 30-40 days, but as the nursery gets older the tillering capacity of plant is badly affected and the result is a serious decline in per acre yields. The alternate source of irrigation water is tubewells. Along with the adequate supply of irrigation water the quality of water is no less important. The Soil Fertility Wing of the Agri Department Punjab made a survey of the tubewells and analysed the quality of water. The report showed that the water of 1/3 of the tubewells is quite unfit for irrigation, 1/3 have partially fit water (can be used by mixing with canal water) and only the remaining 1/3 have water fit for irrigation. These results prove th at about 2/3 tubewells are continuously adding salts to soils. Once can imagine the catastrophic effect on field productivity where such faulty water are used on the already salt affected soils. This is one of the main reasons that now our yields are almost stationery.
3. Plant Population: Low plant population is a chronic problem. The Agri. Department recommenced 80,000 plants per acre, but the actual population hardly reaches or 50,000-55,000. This low plant population is due to harsh weather. At the time of transplanting the ambient temperature is over 40[degrees]C. On account of high temperature, the field-water temperature also goes higher. In this situation the labourers are sandwiched between the high temperature on their head and hot water under their feet. In these circumstances it is virtually impossible to expect from labourers to comfortably accomplish the transplanting operation and achieve the recommended plant population Lot of work has already been done in successful demonstration of Japanese rice transplanters. On an average, a 30 per cent increase in per acre yield has been obtained with machine-planted crop in comparison with the manual transplanted crop. Similarly, Japanese combine harvester have proved their superiority in harvesting rice crop in muddy fields. The machines performed equally well in harvesting/threshing of wheat crop in our rice-wheat cropping pattern, such dual purpose machines can play a significant role in rice economy. The harvested paddy is broken-free and is of high quality, which in turn gives high milling recovery and good quality rice for exports. A saving of 8-10 per cent paddy generally lost with manual harvesting/threshing is also a big advantage both for the growers and the country.
4. Development of New Rice Varieties: We are growing long grain basmati varieties (Av. Grain length 6.5mm) and the extra long grain basmati varieties (Av. Grain length 7.0 mm). In the long grain group, the dominant variety is basmati-385, and in the extra-long grain group is Super Basmati. The rice of Super Basmati fetches higher price in the local and export markets and is competing with the extra-long grain rice exported by other countries. In the local and foreign countries there is a demand of both the groups of rice. The long grain rice sells at price lower than the extra long grain rice and suit the pockets of a large number of consumers. We should therefore, continue working on developing better varieties in both the groups. In the medium grain group, a variety IRRI-9 (NIAB-6) is cultivated. We should redouble our efforts to develop in this group a chalky-free variety which will fetch better price in the international markets.
5. Milling: The export quality of rice cannot be obtained with the old sheller types. Efforts should be made to modernize these shellers. More modern mills should be installed to produce high quality rice for export. The Government help by way of abolishing the custom duties etc. will definitely expedite the installation of modern mills.
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