TOWARDS the close of the third week of this month, the Punjab agriculture minister was reported to have directed the Extension and Pest Warning Wing officials to be, “alert and remain present in the fields to have a close watch over the situation created by the monsoon rains for the cotton crop”.
He was quoted as directing the officials to “have close liaison with the cotton growers to provide them proper guidance and keep an eye on the stocks of pesticides”. The officials concerned were told to report to the government if there were any shortage of pesticides so that, “necessary steps could be taken to improve the supplies in the market.
But the farmers said it was too late for the minister to pass on these directions because the damage to the cotton crop had already been done as a consequence of the pest attack and the shortage of pesticides to control them. They said the minister should have “awaken to the situation” at least a month earlier when the pests began appearing in the crop.
Last week, the federal and provincial agriculture experts confessed at a hearing of the National Assembly’s standing committee on Food, Agriculture and Livestock that the cotton crop situation in Punjab and Sindh was bleak. But these experts blamed water shortage which had led to 10 per cent less sowing in Sindh and shifted it to June from May in Punjab and – the heavy monsoon rains for the grim situation.
The committee was also told that the late sowing in Punjab could result in 3-4 maunds less yield per acre this year. The national average yield per acre is said by the farmers to be 20 maunds. They claimed that the recent monsoon rains had damaged 200,000 acres of crop in Punjab, 150,000 acres in Sindh and 15,000 acres in Balochistan. However, they said, the flowering of cotton plants in September would determine the exact size of the crop.
“They (the experts) are lying to hide their inefficiencies and to shift the entire blame on the rains,” AgriForum Pakistan chairman Ibrahim Mughal says. Conceding that the late sowing in Punjab is one factor that could trim down the yield per acre, he insists that the major damage to the cotton crop is done by the pest attack.
“The cotton crop has been under severe attack by Meali Bug for quite a while, but the government has taken no step to help the farmers control the damage done by it,” he says.
Meali Bug was spotted on the cotton crop for the first time in Pakistan last year. Nonetheless, it did not cause much loss to the crop. However, none of the research institutes could identify it or suggest measures to completely eliminate it. The insect was sent to England for identification. “Even after that the government didn’t take any measure to control its re-occurrence as a consequence of which the same insect has affected the crop this year affecting 4-5 times more crop than last year,” says Mughal.
Meali Bug is considered to be a big threat to the cotton crop because it comes in 3-4 layers, and the insect lays eggs and hatches them in a natural basket attached to its body. It multiplies rapidly as eggs are hatched in 6-10 hours.
“The occurrence of Meali Bug has not only curtailed the crop size, it also has increased the farmers’ production cost, who are forced to apply 3-4 sprays of insecticides to kill it and control the damage, by spending Rs1,000 per acre,” says Mughal.
To add salt to the injury, the two pest complexes – boll worms and sucking pests, also appeared in early August owing to humid weather. “These complexes develop in the cotton crop during September because it last humidity and fluctuations in (day and night) temperature. But this year these developed in the early days of August because of excessive rains. The problem was compounded because of the shortage of insecticide to control these pests. The farmers have either not been able to use the insecticide or were forced to pay a heavy price because of its scarcity in the market,” Mughal says.
He also says that the government had failed to ensure the availability of phosphatic fertiliser, which increases production and creates resistance against pests in the cotton plants, used at the time of sowing. “The government’s own statistics show that the use of fertiliser this year was 31 per cent less than last year because of its shortage,” he says.
Thus, he says, it is absolutely incorrect on the part of the government to claim that monsoon rains alone are responsible for the cotton crop’s bleak situation this year. “The government departments’ inefficiencies, lack of management skills, inability to guide the farmers as to how to control Meali Bug and failure to ensure availability of insecticides used to control the sucking pests and bollworms is responsible for the current cotton crop situation.”
Cotton and cotton products (textiles) make up for over 60 per cent of Pakistan’s total exports. The expected shortfall in the cotton target of 13.82 million bales for this year means that the textile industry, which requires close to 15 million bales, will be forced to depend on import of the fibre to meet its requirements.
“I don’t know what the size of the crop is going to be at the end of the day and how much its quality is going to be affected, but the reports of pest attack and other adverse factors that may reduce its production are quite disturbing for the industry.
We have been adding to our capacity for the last five years, hoping that cotton production will also keep pace with our increasing needs. When cotton production rose to 14.6 million bales, we were delighted that we wouldn’t have to import the fibre. But it dropped to 13 million bales last year, and this year again we hear the disturbing report that the country would not be able to achieve even the last year’s size,” a former All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (Aptma) management committee member who does not want to give his name, says.
He says the entire industry is of the view that the government needs to shore up the capacity of its cotton research institutions in order to make them effective enough to respond to any challenging situation that may affect the crop and develop higher yield local cotton seed varieties. “If it is not done on a war footing, and if the industry has to look toward sources outside the country for raw material, we will not be able to compete with major competitors like China and India in the international markets. If we want to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the elimination of textile quota, we shall have to work hard to improve the size and quality of our cotton,” he says.
The industry is also looking at the situation from another angle, which is more worrying for them. “As the reports of possible reduction in the crop size are pouring in, the cotton prices have already begun rising. We don’t yet know as to how much extra money we shall have to pay because of the failure to achieve the target.
The increase in the cotton rates will mean a substantial rise in our input costs, which would make our textile exports more expensive and less competitive than China and India,” says Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers Association (PHMA) chairman Shahzad Azam Khan.
“The value added textile sector is already suffering losses owing to highly competitive international market. We are selling our products at a loss just to stay in the market and protect our share. The increase in our cost will put further burden on the exporters who would not be able to pass on the additional cost on to their buyers.”
Courtesy: The DAWN