Pakistani Basmati Rice and Cheating
Pakistani Basmati Rice and Cheating
by: Waqas A. Khan
New methods must be embraced, then ingrained in farmers who nurture their fields
Pakistani famed Basmati rice is known for its unique aroma and delicate taste. Such is its popularity that Britons alone consumed 190,000 tons last year.
And without a doubt, rice is an important food and cash crop. After cotton, it is Pakistan’s main export. Its production covers an area equivalent to 2.73 million ha and derives a total production of 6.7 million tons of milled rice.
But our country’s cultivation system, sadly, remains based on complete outmoded reliance on labor, water and chemical fertilizers. It no longer is economically sound, nor is it productive or sustainable. And, if left unchecked, it will pose a serious threat to national food security.
In order to grow more despite these increasingly scarce resources, our nation’s rice-production system must be improved to become more viable, cost-effective and eco-friendly.
Rice is still overwhelmingly planted by manually transplanting 30-days old rice seedlings (raised elsewhere) in flooded and puddled fields, thus consuming more than 30 percent of fresh water from surface and underground resources. This method results in a reported a deficit of 17 million acre-feet of water depletion from the country’s agriculture base.
Water use in our paddy fields remains expensive because of high pumping costs via tube wells; this is especially true in in Punjab. There is low fertilizer-use efficiency in flooded fields (less than 40 percent) and low plant population (35 percent below recommendations, as well as a scarcity of labor that contributes to low paddy yields at the farm level.
To tackle the issue there is a dire need for a unique approach, such as Contractual Rice Farming, which has been tested in India, Bangladesh and worldwide. This is done by securing quality paddy procurement directly from farmers, then processing through factories that deliver quality rice acceptable at the international level.
There is also a need to improve farm yields and income through technical guidance yield and monitory incentives.Perhaps the world’s best formula for better rice farming and processing follows the following approach.
PUSH: This component addresses the knowledge gap of farmers, particularly small-farmers. It represents the usual approach of demonstration and extension.
PULL:It addresses the lack of incentives. Farmers who produce rice will be motivated to change production and irrigation practices, because buyers of their products support this change either by a direct premium or via the benefits of a systematic program.
POLICY: This component aims to fill the gap that inappropriate water governance is creating. The water distribution, the maintenance of the channel system and the right timing of irrigation leaves room for improvement and requires efforts beyond the reach of an individual farmer or a single private-sector entity.
Since 2013, 500 farmers across Punjab have been included in a pilot study. Key stakeholders include Rice Partners, Helvetas Inter-cooperation and Mars Food. With due consideration to worldwide approaches, it is imperative that the following measures be taken to increase the standing of Pakistani basmati rice worldwide.
So, where do we begin?
Step 1: Gather information about every farm family by way of a National Baseline Survey. Among the information it would yield would be levels of education, family size, farm labor, owned area, yield level and off-farm income.
- Define the best water-management practices tailored to growing Basmati rice.
- Educate and support farmers, particularly when it comes to innovative water-saving technologies.
- Identify and demonstrate the best growing practices; encourage farmers to adopt these practices.
- Adoption via promotion, education and support — targeting all farmers.
- Develop outreach materials and strategies.
- Develop an online rice knowledge hub.
- Develop rice-related mobile apps and farmer-friendly decision-making tools.
- Promote sustainable sourcing and business cases (farm, supply and chain).
- Coordinate the sourcing of expertise, promotion and communication.
- Conduct activities to raise awareness among policymakers and other stakeholders, Engage policymakers, regulators and private sector actors to formulate strategic risk-management responses.
- Engage key stakeholders to develop evidence-based policy recommendations that can lead to a plausible and sustainable business case at the national level.
- Develop a financing concept to fund a long-term government program to support this important crop.
Step 2: Precision laser leveling of land; the prerequisite for the uniform distribution of water in a field. This smoothing process prepares fields at a ±2-inch elevation.
Step 3: Direct seeding of rice is the most important step.It is a widespread misconception among farmers that rice needs a lot of water. Because of water scarcity, farmers either do not go all in for rice farming, or they believe it would be a costly step that could lead to severe financial hardships. Studies have proven that flooding this crop actually degrades the quality of the rice.
In parts of some neighboring countries, a rice crop is planted just like wheat or maize; both are highly economical, sustainable and productive. There is no need for nurseries, puddling or manual transplanting.
Rice needs moist conditions — not flooding – to thrive. This realization will save farmers’ time (an estimated 7 to 10 days). It also will require 50 percent less labor, 30 percent less water, and it will increase the yield of milled rice by as much as 15 percent. Because of high plant density, this can save a total of Rs. 8,000 per acre beyond the conventional transplanting approach.
The international Rice Institute in the Philippines recently recommended an Alternative Wetting & Drying (AWD) method for the aforementioned strategy. Plastic pipes with holes (18 inches long and 9 inches diameter) deliver irrigation only when the surface water level drops to a depth of 10-12 cm. This may create a savings of water from 30 to 45 percent, without experiencing a yield penalty. This method causes no adverse environmental impact; no methane gas emissions have been observed. The institute also has urged governments to help their farmers repair levees and water channels to block overflow of water.
And then there’s this. The pure and distinct perfume aroma of Basmati rice, derived from Himalayan waters on the paddies of Pakistan, is being overtaken by a less wholesome whiff: global fraud being perpetrated by India and Bangladesh. A Food Standards Agency probe shows nearly half of all Basmati rice being sold in Britain has been contaminated with inferior long-grain rice. Instead of tucking into a lightly perfumed bowl of fluffy Basmati, with a lamb bhuna or monkfish tikka, thousands of discerning curry-lovers are ending up with a sticky mess created by cheaper, blander and more starchy varieties delivered to an unsuspecting public.
Our Basmati rice is our brand, and our brand is losing its value as revenues decline.
Let’s embrace technology as we demand that those asleep within AGRI Punjab begin to conduct group meetings at village level and make frequent visits to cooperative farms to accelerate the adoption of innovative rice production technologies.
Only then may the blissful fragrance we have all come to know and love continue to be delivered abroad from their true roots within an ever-evolving Pakistan.
The article was published in Pakistan Today