AS the federal government and farmers mourn losses of the current cotton crop, the policymakers in Punjab are now more worried about the next one. According to some estimates, the province is running the risk of losing another 15-20pc area as growers are opting for alternative crops.
The fears were reinforced by a recent meeting where cotton growers counted the factors leading to current crisis and sought solutions from the provincial policymakers.
Out of five reasons for crop failure, according to farmers, the failing BT regime tops the list. Linked to this is the pest problem, especially pink bollworm, which caused up to 60pc of crop losses.
The pink bollworm problem is now limited to Pakistan and, to some extent, India, where research is almost non-existent. What makes the matter worse is that none of current chemicals is effective against it. Thus, the farmers are in a bind: vulnerable seed and, with no effective pesticide in case of pest attack.
Out of five reasons for crop failure, according to farmers, the failing BT regime tops the list
For them, the next biggest problem is crashing international market and domestic prices. The federal government keeps adding to the cost of production through a set of faulty policies and stays out of trading when output hits the market.
The farmers are paying up to 22pc of taxes on pesticides, but price of produce is set by the industry, busy in maximising its own profits. That is why growers are losing interest in the cotton and are opting for alternative crops — even pulses.
The slide in international prices has rendered management of crop and export very, very difficult.
Persistent rains this season drastically restricted the pesticides resulting in sharp fall in output. Of all these problems, Punjab can help only in streamlining the seed business, but the final certification has to come from the federation. The problems of the marketing and pricing are mainly federal forte. The crop thus is challenging the policymakers like never before and they have to think afresh about its future and role in economy.
The pesticides industry adds another layer of problem when it claims that no chemical is effective against pink bollworm once it had attacked the crop — only preventive measures (the PB Ropes and Pheromone Traps) help.
A certain lobby is twisting the argument to favour new varieties; otherwise the pest is attacking advanced varieties of Bollgard with the same ferocity as it has done in case of Bollgard-II. The pink bollworm is thus turning out to be next the CLCV, which used to cost one to two million bales every year during the 1990s and the first decade of this millennium.
The situation puts heavy onus for a solution on Punjab which is a major host to the cotton crop. It should push the federation both at official and the party level to take care of the crop.
Apart from streamlining the seed sector, it has to plead for better marketing, where the price of the crop does not fall below at least officially calculated cost of production. It has to ensure a win-win situation for both farmers and the industry even if the federal government has to pick up part of price to maintain import price parity for the industry.