KARACHI - The gap between the retail price of basmati rice and its ex-mill price (at the start of the season in January 2008) has widened to Rs 78 per kg. When the new rice season was kicked-off in January this year the ex-mill price of basmati rice was around Rs 1700 per 40kgs (Rs 42.50/kg) while during the last couple of weeks the retail price of the superior quality basmati rice had been increased up to Rs 120 that showed an unbelievable difference of Rs 77.50 per kg, thanks to the money-minting approach of the rice millers, hoarders, dealers and retailers. In the case of famous and superior brands the retail price of rice had gone up to Rs 140 to 150 a kg. Details gathered by The Nation showed that at present the ex-mill price of basmati rice had shot up to Rs 3400/40-kg (Rs 85/kg), inferior quality basmati rice and Rs 3400/40-kg (Rs 90/kg), superior quality rice. In other words the millers and dealers, who had hoarded rice at the start of the season were now getting a stunning profit of Rs 42.50/kg to Rs 47.50/kg. Meanwhile, the dealers and retailers were also extracting profit in the range of Rs 20 to 25 per kg. It is a tradition that the mills and big dealers buy paddy at the start of the season and store the rice for four to six months with the aim to get a handsome profit, a rice merchant said. This year the profit margin on basmati rice is far beyond the expectations of the mill owners, hoarders and dealers, he added. According to details, the mills and big dealers bought basmati paddy at Rs 1000/40-kg (inferior quality) and paid up to Rs 1300/40-kg for superior quality rice. Keeping in view the production of 26 to 28 kilograms of rice from 40-kg paddy, the cost of production of rice comes to around 36 to 44 per kg, (excluding the cost of milling). The most wondering thing for the economists and the consumers is that despite surplus production of rice, the prices of the aromatic and tasty commodity have gone up far above the reach of the common people because of the manipulation of the key stakeholders as the rulers are acting as silent spectators and engaged in their political agenda. Interesting to note is that the exporters are blaming the hoarders for this abrupt and unimaginable price of the rice, but it seems a lame excuse, because most of the branded basmati rice is being marketed by the producers at record high prices, a stakeholder said. According to official statistics, the total output of rice crop of current season FY2007-08 was 5.561 million tons against domestic consumption of 2.5 million tons and huge carry-over stocks of previous year's crop. The annual export of rice stands around 3 million tons. It includes export of about one million tons of basmati rice against its production of 2.5 million tons. It is believed that annual domestic consumption of basmati rice is in the range of 1.2 to 1.3 million tons that means every year 0.2 to 0.3 million tons basmati rice remains surplus. The per acre yield of rice production was 2211/kgs in current season against the target of 2186/kgs per acre yield. The basmati production showed increasing trend in Punjab as total output of crop has been recorded at 2.450 million tons. However, the minor decline has been registered in the out put of Irri and other verities of commodity in Punjab as its production recorded at 0.837 million tones in current crop of FY2007-08. Similarly, the rice production has shown increase in Sindh during current season as total output of 1.817 million tons was reported. It may be noted here that the rice achievement of per acre yield of 3060/kgs in Sindh was much higher than average per acre yield achievement of 1907 kg of Punjab. Meanwhile, the rice production of 0.061 million tons has been achieved in the NWFP and 0.136 million tons in Balochistan in current season.