On Wednesday, Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhr Imam while chairing a meeting said that the year 2020 would be a kill or cure situation for the cotton crop. The last few years of declining acreage, dropping per acre yield and sinking national production are testament to the fact that it is an increasingly challenging time for the industrial crop.
At the meeting, the possibility of reviving the cotton industry was discussed in detail. A representative of the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC) who was a part of the meeting suggested that ‘cotton is changing, we should change too’.
It is pertinent to note that despite the gradual decline in cotton production since the past few years, PCCC which was constituted to help with the development, improvement and marketing and manufacturing of cotton has done nothing to help. Through an extensive research and development program, this committee was supposed to help replace the archaic technology that was responsible for the low levels of cotton production. However, it has remained ineffective till now.
In the meeting, a number of problems like low yields, incompetency of staff and lack of funds were discussed. Issues concerning pesticides were also highlighted keeping in mind the farmers cost of production and sale.
It was proposed that biotechnology and genetic engineering should be used with international assistance to bolster cotton production in the country. The participants emphasized that research and development was a necessary precursor for the revival of cotton. Islamic University, Bahawalpur’s Professor Dr Iqbal Bandesha advised that cotton should be sowed before May to avoid monsoon damage.
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Pakistan Kissan Ittehad’s President Khalid Khokhar recommended for the production cost to be reduced and minimum support price for cotton to be set by the government.
A Bleak Future for White Gold
Pakistan economy is primarily agricultural in character and cotton is the most significant industrial raw material that is produced by the country. However, lately Pakistan has slipped to being the fifth largest cotton producer in the world and the third largest cotton consumer. The country is unable to meet its cotton production targets and there is no one willing to take the blame.
Cotton production is a source of livelihood for 1.7 million farming families and acts as a raw material to the $12 billion export textile industry. Moreover, cotton picking is also the largest source of employment for the village women. It contributes 8.5 percent to Pakistan’s GDP and is therefore extremely crucial for the economy.
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Considering the resources committed to cotton crop, it becomes even harder to accept the disaster that is the cotton industry. The federal government alone is running three projects including Rs2.3 billion cotton seed project, a Rs592m Pink Bollworm project and a Rs6bn white fly plan but none of them have been able to halt the decline of the crop.
The competing crops that are rice and sugarcane and corn are faring well due to improved farm practices, technological advancement and seed development. On the flip side, cotton production is surviving on redundant technology, fossilized farm practices and extreme ignorance with respect to seed development.
In the case of competing crops, there has been no government intervention and all the initiatives have been industry-led while they are wholly absent in the case of cotton. The industry, therefore, believes that it can depend on imported lint and thus sees no reason to dedicate its time and resources to cotton production.
Reversing the Decline
Cotton is one raw material that has the potential to offer rural prosperity and fetch enormous foreign exchange. To repair the cotton sector, it is important that serious efforts are put in to incentivize the industry so that it can play its role in rescuing the crop. The failure of this crop can also be prevented if the scientists take into account the early warning signs of climate change and prepare accordingly. There should be minimal government intervention and the growth should purely be industry-led. Better rates for produce should also be guaranteed and new strategies should be introduced to boost seed development.