To shore up falling cotton production, effort is being made for the cultivation of organic cotton in Balochistan where the land is fertile and pest-free.
Cotton production in 2015-16 declined by 28pc to 9.92m bales, mainly because of climate change, competition with other crops, lower market prices and the outbreak of pink bollworm, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) which held its seventy-fifth session in Islamabad last week.
Pakistan informed the meeting that the future cotton policy envisages a number of strategies which include germ-plasm improvements, development of hybrid cotton, improved farm and crop management, bringing additional area under cultivation — especially in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — and minimising post-harvest losses.
Planning and coordination of cotton research and development programmes, among federal and provincial cotton research institutions, is being strengthened to increase cotton production, improve yields per hectare, evolve disease resistant varieties, promote Bt cotton cultivation and improve the overall quality of cotton.
Cotton is grown by 1.3m farmers on over 3.1m hectares of land, which is 15pc of the cultivable area of the country, with average production hovering around 12.7m bales to 14m bales. This is consumed largely by the country’s 521 textile mills, although a significant quantity (up to 1m bales) is also exported.
However, to meet the demand for extra-long staple cotton, about 2m bales are imported annually.
According to the government statement, the national cotton research and development system was being streamlined — with the involvement of all key stakeholders — to bring it at par with international standards. The government was also encouraging multinational and national technology providers to introduce the latest and most effective insect protection technology.
The year 2015-16 may be considered a season of transition and the beginning of a long-term drawdown in stocks. However, this adjustment comes at a cost. The total value of the entire cotton crop was roughly $33bn, the lowest in 11 years
The ICAC observed that contamination is a serious problem and measures should be taken to end contamination. It urged the government to implement the Cotton Control Act.
According to Shabbir Raza of the Pakistan Cotton Standards Institute. He estimated that, in Pakistan, economic losses from contamination cost the cotton value chain, from raw cotton to garments $1.4bn per year.
Raza described an extensive work plan consisting of administrative, operational and marketing arrangements to produce high quality, clean cotton. Under the work plan, willing ginners and growers register with PCSI and agree to follow recommended procedures; growers receive price premiums; PCSI supervises operations at each gin and evaluates seed cotton and lint quality; and buyers willingly pay a premium for high quality, contamination-free cotton.
PCSI has implemented parts of the work plan, and the Karachi Cotton Association (KCA) has switched its variety based marketing system to a system based on grades subject to quality premiums and discounts. The PCSI has established a network of cotton testing laboratories in various locations in Punjab and Sindh.
Dr Shahid Mansoor of the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering stated that the cotton crop faces many challenges, among them cotton leaf curl disease, breakdown of resistance against pink bollworm against Cry1Ac and whitefly are the most major concerns.
Dr Muhammad Naveed of the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee stated that cultivation of biotech cotton in Pakistan distracted attention from bollworm control and increased focus on the control of the leaf curl virus disease. Farmers found an easy solution to minimise this disease by adopting early planting.
Earlier planting of cotton extended the growth period and disturbed the agro-ecosystem, while inviting new pests to emerge as major pests such as the mealybug, red cotton bug and the dusky cotton bug. With regard to bollworms, the pink bollworm had not been a major pest on cotton in Pakistan for 15 years. Biotech cotton helped to control the pink bollworm.
Pakistan is reverting back to proven cultural measures to control the pink bollworm, including stopping early sowing to protect bolls from short diapauses emerging of the pink bollworm. In addition, work is also progressing on a forecasting model based on degree-days, he said.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who addressed the plenary meeting stated that Pakistan has moved forward and become the fourth-largest cotton producer, third-largest cotton consumer and second-largest cotton yarn exporter in the world. Pakistan is one of the few countries that have the entire textile value chain.
The government is committed on undertaking all possible measures to introduce the latest agricultural technologies and has already carried out important amendments in the Seed Act of 1976. Further, a Plant Breeders Right Bill would soon be placed in the upper house of the Parliament.
Such steps should increase the per acre yield of cotton, which has been stagnant.
ICAC Executive Director Jose D. Sette said that cotton has not been able to reap the full benefits of lower prices because the price of polyester, its most important competitor, has also dropped as a result of overcapacity and weak oil prices.
In fact, after three consecutive seasons of growth, world cotton consumption in 2015/16 shrank by 1pc. If maintained in coming months, the surge in cotton prices, which began in April 2016, will further widen the gap in the price of the two main fibres, with a possible negative impact on demand for cotton.
Overall, 2015/16 may come to be considered a season of transition and the beginning of a long-term drawdown in stocks. However, this adjustment comes at a cost. In 2015/16, the total value of the entire cotton crop was roughly $33bn, the lowest in eleven years.