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Agriculture is the largest sector and driving force of the economy of Pakistan and accounts for 25% of GDP, provides livelihood to 60% of the people living in rural areas, employs 46% of labour force and its share of export earnings accounts to 60%.

Rice, an important food and cash crop, ranks third after wheat and cotton it accounts for 18% of the area under cereals, 10% of total cropped area and 17% of the overall output of cereals. Pakistan ranks 12th in terms of rice production and 6th in rice export with 6% share in volume and 10% in value of world rice trade. Rice in Pakistan is planted on an area of more than 2 million ha with production of about 5 million tons.

Out of 120 rice producing countries, productivity of about 46 countries, is higher than Pakistan. Efforts are underway to enhance productivity and achieve sustainability in rice and rice-based production system through various interventions Rice production was increasing since independence and highest production of 5.2 million tons was achieved during 1999.

Unfortunately due to acute water shortage and prolonged drought conditions rice production started declining and it was 3,8 million tons during 2001. Due to some improvement in water availability and certain interventions, rice production increased in steadily and during the year 2005 we got record production of 5.339 million tons.

More than 6% increase in production was achieved in Pakistan over the previous year against 2.5% increase in the world it is encouraging that increase in production is vertical. About 7% higher productivity (2110 kg/ha) was achieved over the target fixed by the Government of Pakistan. In spite of speculator success our rice productivity is still low.

At present rice production in Pakistan is facing various challenges such as water shortage/drought: declining soil fertility; soil salinity; increasing losses caused by insect pests; diseases and weeds; harvest and post-harvest losses; high cost of production; human resource crisis in rice production; WTO regime; increasing competition in the international market and environmental pollution.

We are in process to devise strategy to accept multifarious and multifaceted challenges and transform problems into opportunities. We are moving from the concept of production to productivity, yield to income of the growers, commodity research to system based approach, pesticide use to IMP, public sector research to participatory research and public-private partnership on the basis of complimentarily and comparative advantage, diversification of rice-based cropping system, optimal use of nitrogenous fertilisers with the help of LCC, mechanise rice establishment and harvest and post - harvest operations and bridging the yield gap.

The policy of the Government of Pakistan is to restrict the cultivation of Basmati rice in the traditional Basmati growing areas to get high price in the domestic and international market. The major emphasis is to improve the quality of rice in general and that of Basmati rice in particular. In general new rice varieties are better in quality than the older ones.

For example new Basmati varieties are with extra long grain as compared to long grain of old varieties. Shahkar - a newly approved variety is high yielder with better grain quality than IR-6. Likewise KSK 133 has long grain than KS-282 and IR-6. Efforts are under way to strengthen public-private partnership to develop and commercialise hybrid rice in Pakistan.

With the cultivation of hybrid rice about 25% increase in productivity may be achieved. Moreover, with this partnership availability of healthy, pure and high quality seed to the farmers may be ensured. Development, refinement and dissemination of resource conservation technologies (RTCs) is also being done with the co-operation and collaboration of private sector. Government of Pakistan is also making efforts to provide credit and make available inputs to the farmers.

REAP can play important role by close collaboration with scientists, farmers and other stakeholders to enhance productivity, improve quality and increase rice export from Pakistan. REAP should prove financial support to public sector for strengthening research and development activities. Moreover, contract farming and through direct interaction of REAP, farmers and scientists rice productivity and grain quality can be improved substantially. Such collaboration will minimise the role of middle man and benefit both producers and consumers.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2006

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