Demand for Basmati spikes rice import bill by 21pc to Rs17b

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Mar 19, 2018-

Nepal’s rice imports bill jumped 21.4 percent in the first seven months of the current fiscal year as consumers preference for aromatic basmati rice from India continues to rise. 

According to Nepal Rastra Bank statistics released on Sunday, Nepal imported rice worth Rs16.95 billion in the first seven months (mid-July to mid-February). In the same period last year, rice imports amounted to Rs13.96 billion. The statistics show that in 2015-16, the annual imports were valued at Rs10.20 billion. 

In the last two years, rice imports have jumped 66 percent despite the country recording a bumper paddy harvest. Paddy production jumped to an all-time high of 21.66 percent to 5.23 million tonnes in 2016-17. 

Output this fiscal year is expected to amount to 5.15 million tonnes, down 1.49 percent, mostly on account of the August floods last year in the southern Tarai plains, the Ministry of Agricultural Development said. Despite the drop, the harvest will still be second largest in the country’s history. 

Experts said that rice imports bill would continue to grow because the expanding population of middle income Nepalis prefers basmati rice. Long grain basmati rice holds a unique charm in global markets, including Nepal, and this has resulted in a growth in rice imports although the country produced surplus grain, according to agri experts.

“It’s the rice-eating habit that has been driving imports at an alarming level,” said Agri Economist Krishna Prasad Pant. “In fact, consumption of rice has 

superseded production as food habit of Nepalis has not changed a lot.” 

According to him, Nepal has been importing maize worth Rs11 billion annually and it is not for feeding people but to feed livestock. There seems to be a direct link between remittance and food habits in Nepal. 

Experts said that Nepalis have been earning more for the last couple of years, and demand for basmati rice has grown accordingly. Every household in Kathmandu and other major cities prefer packaged basmati rice that is imported from India.  

Considering the current imports trend, Pant said, Nepal’s rice imports bill is expected to touch Rs30 billion this fiscal year, up from Rs23.6 billion last fiscal. India is the sole exporter of basmati rice to Nepal.

Importers said that Indian basmati rice was much cheaper compared to Nepal’s product due to low cost of production and India’s heavily subsidised farm sector.  

According to the Department of Customs, Nepal imported farm products worth Rs196 billion last fiscal year, up 11.36 percent year-on-year, setting off concern that the country’s dependency on imported food was ballooning out of control. 

The share of agri products in the total import bill has swelled to 20 percent. The country’s total import bill amounted to Rs984.06 billion in the last fiscal year. 

The department’s statistics show that agri imports have surged more than fourfold over the last eight years. The food import bill jumped steadily from Rs44.43 billion in 2009-10 to Rs76.05 billion in 2011-12 and to Rs99.35 billion in 2012-13. It further ballooned to Rs127.51 billion in 2013-14.

Published: 19-03-2018 08:19

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