Boro: Expectation and reality
An increase in rice growing area (horizontal expansion), by 0.22-0.26 million hectares (ha) from last year's 4.58 million ha, during the boro cropping season is expected to partly offset the flood and Sidr losses. It may reduce the area under aus, aman, jute and sugarcane in the next cropping season.
Due to constraints on rice productivity increases (vertical expansion), the total production increase is expected to range between 0.8 and 1.0 million tons milled rice, due mainly to area expansion. Hence, total rice production in the boro season is forecast at around 16 million tons.
Undisrupted and smooth input supply through both public and private sectors should be major policy thrusts and focus for the government in order to make the rice production system sustainable and stable.
Quite naturally, the whole country is eager to have an idea of what the aggregate production of rice will be in the current boro season, hoping that a bumper harvest could reduce the excessively high prices of rice currently prevailing.
When rice production in aman season suffers a setback due to floods and other natural calamities, farmers typically try to compensate for this through increasing production of rice in the boro season, an effort that also receives government support.
This phenomenon can be easily inferred from the total boro rice production levels recorded after the1988, 1998, 2000, and 2004 floods.
However, there are some issues that need to be taken into account in estimating expected aggregate production in the boro season, particularly this year.
In Bangladesh, rice production during the two cropping seasons (aman and boro) tends to have opposite patterns within a given year. To compensate for production losses incurred during the aman season, farmers typically put extra efforts and resources to increase the production of boro rice, both horizontally and vertically.
The area under boro rice this year increased compared to 2006-07 cropping periods, which will be around 5-6 per cent on average, ranging between 0 and 10 per cent across the country.
Another factor that may have contributed to the area expansion is that, for the first time, domestic prices of rice are at par with international prices, which provides an incentive for rice producers.
However, there is evidence that the expansion of the area under boro rice has been achieved at the cost of aman, aus, jute and sugarcane productions. This requires further investigation, as it will have an effect on aggregate rice production of the country.
So far, BRRI has released 20 MVs and one hybrid variety for the boro season. Out of 20 indigenous varieties, BRRIdhan28 and BRRIdhan29 are the most widely used. In 2006-07, their coverage was around 70 per cent, and is expected to rise this year. The coverage of other recommended varieties is negligible.
Among them BRRIdhan36, BRRIdhan 47 and BR19 can however be mentioned. BRRIdhan28 and BRRIdhan29 were released in 1994 and are still popular among farmers. However, the MV variety of any crop cannot sustain high yields forever due to genetic erosion and other factors.
Another factor that should be considered is that our farmers know very well how to derive the maximum yield from a newly released variety with minimum cost, and they do it very quickly (first phase of yield realisation).
They are also aware that these varieties still have potential to give higher yields (second phase of yield realisation). However, to tap that potential, they need extra knowledge, labour and resources. This implies that, if they want to use this potential, they will face lower profit margins and higher costs compared to the first phase.
That's why farmers are sometime reluctant to put extra efforts in further increasing productivity. They also know that certain portions of yield potential could never be realised in their fields (third phase of yield realisation). The yield gap between research stations and farmers' fields is narrower in the case of boro rice compared to aus and aman rice.
Fertiliser use in the boro rice season is a complex issue, and there are problems on both supply and demand sides. For the boro season, the key factor in fertiliser use is availability more than price. The general recommendation of NPK use is 3:2:1 respectively.
This is currently 1:0.26:0.23, indicating imbalanced use of fertiliers with heavy reliance upon urea. Using only nitrogenous fertilisers in the absence of proper doses of phosphorous and potash may actually reduce the yield.
The emergence of bacterial disease in rice leaf in some fields across the country is a manifestation of this imbalance in the use of fertilisers. The symptom of the disease has been already detected in approximately 30-40 thousand hectares of land. Excessive use of urea, coupled with higher humidity, is the main cause for the disease. In addition to this, the leaf injuries caused by rainfall and other localised disasters facilitated the introduction of the bacteria in the leaves.
If last year's BBS acreage figure of 42.58 million ha is taken as reference, then the area increase can be expected to be within 0.22- 0.26 million ha. However, if increased areas consist mainly of marginal lands, the effect on total production will not be that significant.
It is also interesting to note that, different from last year, area coverage under BRRIdhan28 is higher than coverage under BRRIdhan29, although yield potential of BRRIdhan29 is much higher than that of BRRIdhan28.
The possible reasons for this may be that farmers want to harvest their produce as early as possible to be food secure; to save on irrigation costs; and to avoid any natural calamities during the harvesting period.
The performance of hybrid rice is another area of concern. It is widely believed that hybrid rice varieties used in Bangladesh are not superior to BRRIdhan29. In addition, different from indigenous rice, hybrid rice needs special attention throughout its growing season.
Hybrid rice cultivation is knowledge and management intensive and also input-responsive. Otherwise, it could be counterproductive, including bringing of new diseases in the country from abroad. We do not have any clear deployment strategy and extension efforts to promote this technology in Bangladesh.
Different estimations show that it could reach more than 800,000 ha compared to 400,000 ha the last year. But, how it will increase yield is yet to be seen.
Planting MVs at the optimal time is of crucial importance in ensuring high yields. It is estimated that there is late planting in about 30 percent of the area. The late tillers do not produce ripe seeds, which adds to the sterility problem.
The amount of shattering will depend upon the stage at which the crop is harvested. In an over-ripe crop, the loss due to shattering is always enhanced. The post harvest loss is sometimes due to inclement weather during harvesting and processing.
High coverage of BRRIdha28 compared to BRRIdhan29, unsatisfactory performance of hybrid rice, uncertainty in fertiliser availability, imbalanced use of fertilisers and late plantation in some areas may reduce the benefits of area expansion and the subsidies provided by the government.
Overall, provided that standing crops will not be affected by further natural disasters, the increase in the total yield can be expected to range between 0.8 and 1 million tons. This means total rice production in the season will be around 1 million tons more than last year.
From a longer-term perspective, efforts from all concerned stakeholders are necessary to assist farmers in realising the potential of MVs (second phase) rather than placing emphasis on area expansion. Accurate estimation of the areas occupied by different rice crops is essential for yield forecast.
The potential for expanding the area under boro rice is already exhausted, and any further attempts will be at the cost of other crops and will have serious environmental consequences.
Undisrupted, smooth and timely supply of agricultural inputs, including seeds, at affordable prices throughout the year remains the best option to increase both production and productivity of agricultural crops.
Subash Dasgupta is an agriculturist.