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A bumper cotton crop to boost economic growth




  • Federal government officials were quoted in December 2003 as saying that measures for raising cotton output to 15 million bales by 2010 were being adopted.
    Without a step being taken in that direction, the crop has crossed 13.2 million bales this year before the final count; it may touch the 15 million bales by the time crop arrivals are over.

    But there are questions about the crop. It should be time for keeping fingers crossed instead of going for premature celebrations because the quality of the crop is yet not determined.

    Some of the measures enumerated by officials in 2003 were: higher support price for seed cotton, comprehensive cotton research programme focusing on productivity enhancement, evolving high yield and quality varieties, availability of graded seed, high priority to production of contamination free cotton and introduction of standardization and grading to improve quality.

    Most of these measures are still either awaiting finalization or implementation while decline has set in with regard to some areas like research. An important research programme was discontinued and much of the current crop is being attributed to previously produced virus resistant seed that may be on its last stretch because of its limited period of productivity; more varieties of tested new seed are not there to replace it.

    Meanwhile, great dividends are expected from the current crop. That is not without reason because cotton plays a central role in the national economy. But counting of chickens has actually begun even before eggs were placed for hatching.

    A government official recently declared that the crop would help raise GDP to seven percent. It should make a significant contribution-one hopes it does, but numerous factors need to be considered before actual benefits can be collected.

    The Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) was assigned to intervene in the cotton sector to ensure fair payment to growers. It dealt with ginners to tie that end. That is understandable because procurement of seed cotton is the ginneries field; TCP is not qualified for managing it. However, in the process, it simply served as a vehicle for changing ownership of phutti.

    It went around the job on the basis of support price for phutti but the growers weren’t given that rate, except possibly in the case of influential landowners who may have sold sub- standard phutti to TCP.

    It’s purchase rate was Rs2,159 per 40 kg of lint while world wide rate was Rs1,862 for the same quantity. What made it go for procurement at substantially lower rates is anybody’s guess.

    There also are reports that lint TCP purchased may have been low grade at least in a few cases. The possibility is concretized by two developments. One: the bidders cold response to tenders for sale of lint by the organization; the highest rates quoted by bidders were quite low.

    And two: reports about TCP’s intervention costing the exchequer about Rs4 billion. The government would know how deeply and lethally that would cut in to expected profits. Another query floating around the cotton sector is linked to prices in the market.

    It is said that a percentage of the crop may comprise cotton with reduced ginning outlet because plants in some fields grew ‘under stress’ due to scuttled maturity period- maturing in 28 days instead of standard duration of 48 days. This, according to cotton sector experts, affected the strength of the fibre and reduced its worth in a market that plays it stingily to the last penny.

    Some of the experts view the bulk of TCP’s bargains as consisting of lower grade cotton. Market reports confirm that a substantial percentage TCP procured lint has been obtained from a crop that was lower than the contracted grade. This may help explain TCP’s initial proposal to put export on hold and the government’s decision against exporting procured stocks.

    A loss of about Rs4 billion has thus been caused by TCP’s intervention to safeguard the interests of the farmers. One may have ignored this colossal and criminal act if growers had benefited.

    That they have not. Government sources have themselves conceded failure in ensuring payment to growers at official support price. Initially, the government kept All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (Aptma) at a distance from TCP’s lint.

    The policy was later revised to allow its members to participate in bidding if local bidders offered the same price as foreign customers. But even that, it seems, was not to be because Aptma’s total commitment to profit making.

    Aptma comprises highly professional businessmen whose priority is profit. One cannot question that attitude because mill owners are not in the field for fun and in any case, the sector has lived a pampered life so far.

    There seems no reason why it should alter course because it is as affectively represented in decision-making level as owners of sugar or flour mills or edible oil importers and, for that matter, any other special interest group.

    Which means that lint procured by TCP is either likely to rot in stores or it would be sold at a heavy loss to the government. The argument for building buffer stocks for the next year is neither here nor there. It is nothing more than crude sop for public consumption and an attempt at hiding inefficiency, if not worse acts of commission and omission.

    This also suggests that quality cotton could well be in short supply in the current year’s bumper crop. Hopefully, that would not happen at a massive scale but it is an eventuality that can be postponed indefinitely if earnest, authentic and professionally required remedial measures, most of them enumerated two years back, are not urgently adopted.

    More than anything else, there is great need for research for producing seed for new resistant and high yield varieties because those currently cultivated may be reaching optimum productive period and reviving research for BT gene to produce high quality fibre.

    The government must realize the need for enhancing water utilization efficiency in view of continuously shrinking of water resources. Further more, weather may not always be as sympathetic for crop development as it was this year.

    So, the maxim effort has to be made for harnessing factors within the control of the managers of Pakistan’s agriculture. The implementation of the agenda announced in 2003 cannot be postponed anymore. It must be pursued at top speed before the next crop is cultivated.

    Hoping for high crops without creating basic conducive conditions may bail out officials but that is bound to undermine productivity of the agriculture sector. Such a thing happening to the cotton crop would be simply disastrous for the economy, a fact well known by the government.

    Courtesy: The DAWN

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