Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sindh’s damaged roads hamper rice trading

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 13, 2010

BECAUSE of standing floodwater and broken road networks, paddy growers in Sindh are facing enormous problem in transporting their produce to rice mills.

Consequently, the rice mill owners have also not been able to gear up rice processing on account of slow arrival of paddy at their mills.

This year paddy was cultivated over 1.15 million acres in Sindh, which is 72 per cent of the sowing target of 1.6 million acres. The production target for rice was set at 2.052 million tons..

According to the provincial government, around 30 per cent of the paddy crop survived the recent floods. “Paddy crop worth over Rs60 billion cultivated over an area of around 0.7-0.8 million acres was completely washed away,” said a provincial agriculture department official.

Agriculture department officials have estimated a shortage of around 1.7 million tons of rice this year, as production expected from the unaffected paddy crop on 0.3-0.4 million acres will be around 0.3 million tons.

Economic activities pick up in rice growing areas of the province during four months of the rice harvesting season, which begins from August every year. But, this time the situation is dismal as rice millers have not witnessed any healthy activity on account of slow and delayed arrival of the produce. There are around 850 rice mills in Sindh, but only a few of them have started functioning so far.

“Nearly 80 per cent or 680 rice mills were fully operational by mid-November last year. But, this season their number was 140-150 by the beginning of this December,” said members of the Sindh-Balochistan Rice Millers Association (SBRMA).

They said that as only 20-30 per cent paddy output was available, more or less 200 mills would be able to go into production.

However, Nabi Khan Brohi, a noted paddy grower in Shikarpur district, said arrival of paddy at mills could improve if floodwater was flushed out and broken roads were repaired without any further delay. But, nothing is taking place in this regard, he complained.

Officials in the provincial roads and communications department estimate that around 1,800 kilometres of provincial (highway) roads and 4,500 kilometres of district roads have been damaged. About Rs38-40 billion is needed for their rehabilitation, for which the required fund is not available.

Rice millers say that they have suffered serious financial losses, their mills were hit by floods and tons of last year’s stored rice and seed in the mills were damaged. Owners of such affected mills are unable to begin rice processing.

“Around 200 rice mills in the province are still under floodwater. The owners of these mills have suffered economic losses worth billions of rupees, ” said Siraj Rashdi, president of the Larkana chapter of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

Some rice millers also complain that paddy arriving at their mills is generally damaged and of poor quality. They also said that it was financially unviable to run these mills because growers were demanding Rs1,000-1,200/ 40 kg for irri-6 paddy, which is unaffordable for them.

Growers argue that since the cost of farm input and transportation charges have soared, they cannot sell their produce at official rate.

The millers are reluctant to pick up paddy at prices demanded by the growers. They are reported to have been buying paddy at Rs800-Rs900 per maund. Each miller, on an average, procures 70,000-80,000 maunds of paddy every year.

According to rice millers’ association, each rice miller employs 80-90 workers on a daily basis during the paddy harvesting season. But, this time thousands of labourers are bound to remain unemployed.


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