Print Edition - 2014-07-29  |  Development

Halting rain raises fears

  • Based on rainfall patterns, paddy transplantation in the mountain region has been completed on 45,481 hectares, or 66.8 percent, against 89 percent in the same period last year
Halting rain raises fears

Jul 28, 2014-

On-again, off-again rains have raised fears of damage to this year’s paddy crop, and agro experts predict that output could fall if the monsoon does not recover its full force by mid-August.  

The rains arrived 10 days behind the normal time of June 10, and the initial downpours have given way to a trickle. Moreover, there has been no strong rain since the second week of July.

According to the Ministry of Agricultural Development, paddy has been transplanted on 61 percent of the 1.52 million hectares of paddy fields in the country as of July 25. In the same period last year, transplantation was completed on 78 percent of the total paddy fields.

The Meteorological Forecasting Division (MFD) said rainfall in the month of June this year was below normal across the country. Of the total 16 meteorological stations updated under MFD, Okhaldhunga received the highest rainfall but it was still 22 percent below the normal level.

As of mid-July, rainfall has been scanty to heavy except in a few districts in the Western region. But it has not been regular and widespread. The monsoon rains are important for Nepal as 80 percent of the farms depend on the heavens for irrigation.

As Nepal doesn’t have adequate irrigation infrastructure to bring water to most paddy growing areas, agro experts said that below average rainfall could cripple an already ailing economy, which is growing at its slowest pace in a decade. The agriculture sector accounts for one-third of the country’s GDP.

Based on rainfall patterns, paddy transplantation in the mountain region has been completed on 45,481 hectares, or 66.8 percent, against 89 percent in the same period last year.

Transplantation in the hill region has been completed on 277,783 hectares, or 70 percent of the total paddy fields. Last year, the rate was 86 percent. Agro experts said that the transplantation period had ended in the mountain and hill regions.

The Tarai, celebrated as the country’s food basket, still has a spill over period until mid-August. In some cases, paddy can be sowed till early September.

“Paddy transplanted after July 25 in Kathmandu and other districts with the temperature that is above Kathmandu might have to face the problem of early winter that affects the flowering stage which could result in sterility,” said Bhaba Prasad Tripathi, senior associate scientist at the Nepal office of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Hem Raj Regmi, chief statistician at the ministry, said that considering the present monsoon pattern, paddy transplantation would not be completed in most parts of the hill and mountain regions this year. Even if transplantation is not done on most of the paddy fields in these regions, food output will not be impacted significantly as their contribution to the country’s food reserve is nominal, he added.

“However, there could be some worries particularly in terms of the country’s economic growth if the monsoon fails to recover by mid-August in the Tarai which is the most important period for the growing plants,” said Regmi.

The ministry’s statistics show that paddy transplantation in the Tarai has progressed at the slowest pace. As of July 25, paddy transplantation has been completed on a meagre 619,193 hectares, or 58 percent of the total 1.06 million hectares of paddy fields.

Last year, the transplantation rate was 74 percent. Regmi said that it was too early to predict that the poor monsoon rains would lead to a fall in grain production in the Tarai.  

In 2012-13, a drought resulted in paddy yields dropping 11.3 percent to 4.50 million tonnes. The growth rate of the farm sector fell to 1.07 percent which played a major part in the economic growth rate plunging to a six-year low of 3.56 percent.

The repercussions of the drop in food grain output was visible in 2013-14 when the country’s cereal import bill jumped to Rs 20 billion from Rs 13 billion before.

ALTERNATIVE

The Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) in coordination with IRRI has distributed 3,400 mini kits or 5 tonnes of new improved varieties of paddy seeds that are tolerant to extreme climatic stress like drought, flooding or submergence to farmers in Bara, Parsa, Sarlahi, Rautahat and other districts in the Tarai.

According to Tripathi, the seed varieties are Samba Mashuri sub-I and Swarna sub-I which are tolerant to flooding or submergence. Likewise, the other varieties Sukhha 1 and 3, NR 1190, Hardinath-2 and IEP 16775 can withstand drought for up to a month.

“Although the amount of seeds that has been distributed is nominal, it could provide farmers some relief and help them to produce these kinds of seeds for next year,” Tripathi said. “If these varieties yield good results, it will help farmers to boost production of these seeds and become independent.”  

The ministry’s statistics show that paddy transplantation in Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi and Rautahat in the Central Tarai has progressed very slowly with the transplantation rate reaching less than 40 percent.  

Tripathi said that the Tarai region also had the option of applying direct-seeded paddy on water-deficit land. But direct-seeded paddy needs to be well managed as it suffers from constraints like high weed infestation.

Meanwhile, 585 kg of Sukhha 4, 5 and 6 seeds have been distributed to various seed producing companies so that they can produce adequate seeds for next year.   On August 26 last year, the Seed Varieties Release, Approval and Registration Sub-Committee of the National Seed Board approved the new seed varieties Sukhha Dhan 4, Sukhha Dhan 5 and Sukhha Dhan 6.

These varieties, which can survive under stress and retain desirable grain qualities that can create positive impacts on the lives of farmers, was approved for release by the government by June.

These new varieties, also known as “climate change-ready rice”, can tolerate drought for up to one and a half months. The plants can grow under water-deficiency stresses. They have been recommended for the Tarai, inner Tarai and river basin areas.

Among these three, Sukhha 6 has the ability to re-grow even two weeks after submergence. It has an average yield of 4-4.5 tonnes per hectare, and under a good irrigation condition, the output can go up to 5.5 tonnes per hectare on an average. The plant stands 125 cm tall and the maturity period is 120-125 days.

Published: 29-07-2014 08:57

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