Last week, rumor mills went in overdrive in farmer Whatsapp groups, claiming that government of Pakistan was considering banning of rice exports, in a bid to protect domestic food security. Later that week, press reported that as much as seventy percent of Sindh’s rice crop had been lost to the floods. Have the floods truly put Pakistan’s grain security at risk?
Although the humanitarian fallout from the floods is truly catastrophic, the grave concerns raised on social media viz national rice crop risks painting a far more scary picture viz farm output than may be warranted. While it is correct that the province contributes as much as one third of national rice output, its share in basmati production – Pakistan’s mainstay rice variety – is less than 1 percent. Instead, the province primarily produces hybrid and IRRI rice, over 90 percent of which is exported on average.
In fact, out of total four million metric tons (MMT) of IRRI and hybrid rice production in the country, as much as 2.5 MMT is grown in the southern province (or 63 percent). During the last fiscal year, Pakistan non-basmati (IRRI and hybrid) rice exports breached 4.1 MMT, implying that very little of the non-basmati varieties produced are locally consumed.
In contrast, most of locally consumed rice is of the basmati variety, grown in the Kalar region of north-eastern and central districts of Punjab province. Fortunately, basmati region has remained protected from floods this monsoon, suggesting that Pakistan’s grain security – at least to the extent of domestic rice consumption – may have remained unaffected by the floods.
But this does not mean that the exportable rice production of Sindh has been spared. That’s where facts become muddy. Of the 29 districts in the province, 23 were declared calamity hit by the provincial governmentin late August. This included the eight districts which contribute as much as 98 percent of provincial rice output, raising fears that provincial rice crop had effectively been washed away.
Remember, because of Sindh’s frequent drought conditions, rice crop cultivation is encouraged in limited areas of the province, mainly on the right bank of river Indus in upper Sindh: Kashmore (incl. Kandhkot), Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Larkana, Kambar Shahdadkot and Dadu – and the Indus delta region in the south: Badin and Thatta (incl. Sujawal), where water is available in relative abundance. More than 70 percent of rice produced in these districts is hybrid variety, which is yet to gain significant traction in local cuisine. Historically, most paddy fields in Sindh are cleared by late September, to make way for land preparation for wheat cultivation in October.
According to data released by PDMA Sindh, flood inundation in lower Sindh (Indus delta region) districts of Thatta, Badin and Sujawal remained restricted below 30 percent of land area at its peak level. Based on historic figures from Sindh Crop Reporting department, delta region’s contributes as much as 30 percent of provincial rice output, which could suggest that much of the paddy in the area may have remained protected from flood induced damage.
This stands in sharp contrast to the situation in upper Sindh. Per PDMA, as much as 60 percent of land area in some of these districts became inundated by early September, which has seen been brought down to below 40 percent (as of last week). In areas such as Kambar Shahdadkot and Jacobabad, that means significant losses to rice crop may have taken place before draining began in earnest.
While nothing can be said with certainty, there may be some cause for hope. Districts that witnessed limited flooding in the north including Kashmore, Shikarpur – and to a lesser extent Larkana –together account for half of provincial output. While the loss is in no way insignificant, Pakistan’s domestic demand should remain turbulence free. In fact, timely draining of water and land preparation before wheat sowing season presents a far greater threat to domestic food security than economic loss from Sindh’s rice crop damage ever could.
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