KARACHI - The rice exporters are optimistic about output of bumper rice crop in 2008-09 that would lead to 5 million tons export of the commodity. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock had estimated production of 5.7 million tons for the FY 2008-09, but the exporters are expecting output around 7 million tons in the forthcoming season. Chairman of Rice Exporters Association Pakistan (REAP) Mohammad Azhar while talking to The Nation said the output of rice crop is expected to be around 7 million tons owing to early rains and use better inputs to enhance yield. The farmers are switching over to rice even in cotton growing-areas of the country, he said, adding the major factor encouraging the growers to rice plantation was the soaring international and domestic prices of the commodity. "The bumper output of rice will lead to 5 million tons export of the commodity in current fiscal 2008-09", chairman REAP said, pointing out that farmers get attractive returns of amount in comparison of other cash crops such as sugarcane and cotton. According to official statistics, the nominal growth of 6.72 percent was observed in the rice export in quantity, 3.339 million tons in last FY08 over 3.129 million tons but in value it increased by 61.53 percent to $1.818 billion dollars against $1.125 billion dollars of previous fiscal. The robust earning in foreign exchange of rice export in last fiscal was due to all time high prices of the commodity in international market because the shortage of rice was persisted in last year at the global level due to less production which led to hike in prices.    Without giving any data, REAP chairman said the huge stocks of rice were lying in private godowns by hoarders in Karachi and other areas of the country and they were not willing to sale their stocks, and looking for an opportunity of handsome prices because the prices of the commodity have been lowered in domestic market. He urged the government to take immediate steps to check rampant smuggling of rice and also try to bring out the commodity in the open market by taking stern action against hoarders, profiteers and smugglers. While a rice trader in Karachi pointed out that the export of the commodity was standstill and international buyers were not interested for purchasing of commodity as new crop is arriving in other countries.