Pakistan’s Silent Rice Revolution

Basmati rice now constitutes half of total 8 million national rice productions. Interestingly, basmati exports have received a battering during the period, falling to average of 0.7 million tons annually, against peak volume of million tons per annum achieved between FY07 – FY11.

That means national consumption of domestically produced basmati has doubled in the last 10 years, from 1.2 million tons in FY11 to over 2.4 million tons by FY20 (not accounting for disappearances such as smuggling)! Moreover, increased net domestic availability of basmati (more production + less exports) coupled with deregulated prices for rice should have led to domestic prices finding parity with falling global prices. Export of “other rice varieties” charged ahead from 2.7 million tons a decade ago to 3.4 million tons by last fiscal, ensuring that overall volume exported stayed put at 4 million tons per annum.

Does that mean Pakistani rice processors are retaining more of premium rice grains (basmati) back home for domestic consumption, while exporting lesser (coarse) varieties that bring less bang for the buck? But drought resistance was only half of hybrid’s charm; the variety also boasted average yield of over 4.5 tons per ha, against Punjab’s less than 3 tons per ha for both traditional coarse (IRRI) and basmati grains.

Although Pakistan’s trade figures do not provide variety-wise breakdown for exports (other than for premium basmati), it appears that rice processors have managed to replace coarse IRRI grains with hybrid varieties in the export mix as well.

For one, China – where hybrid varieties originated – has become the biggest buyer of Pakistan’s non-basmati rice varieties (HS code 1006-3090), from virtually zero exports a decade ago. If true, higher share of hybrid rice grains in export volume (instead of coarse or basmati) would mean that Pakistan is no longer indulging in virtual export of water, a common refrain among environmentalists.

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