Chandigarh: Meagre monsoon rains have boosted cultivation of premium basmati rice in India’s key producing states of Punjab and Harayana, exposing farmers to volatile international prices instead of a generous state-set price for regular grades.
Basmati, which has been exempted from India’s rice export ban, brings higher returns, requires lesser water and can be sown late, attracting farmers in the two states that account for over 70% of India’s output of the aromatic, long-grain staple.
But many farmers prefer regular rice varieties as they are sturdy and can be easily sold to official agencies at a fixed price. In contrast, basmati requires high maintenance and its price depends on trends in the international market, as a large part of basmati output is exported.
The Punjab government has estimated the area under basmati grades may rise 60% to 600,000 hectares this crop year, while the farm department in Haryana expects it rise 40% to 350,000 hectares.
“Weak monsoon and higher returns per unit is the reason for increase in the area under basmati varieties,” said B.S. Duggal, additional director with the Haryana government’s farm department.
“Basmati varieties are sown late and require lesser water than other rice strains, and need lesser nutrients too,” he said.
Rice cultivation involves sowing seeds in a nursery and transplanting saplings to the field.
Rice had been transplanted on 750,000 hectares out of the targeted 1.15 million hectares in Haryana, and in 2.27 million hectares out of the expected 2.6 million hectares in Punjab.
The agricultural meteorology department of the Punjab Agricultural University said the state had just 26.4 mm of rainfall up to 10 July, less than half of the the normal 58.2 mm.
Gurdial Singh, the Punjab government’s joint director in the farm department, said he hoped rice transplantation should be possible on about 95% of the target area, although the cost of inputs may rise.