Every year when the cotton crop is close to the harvesting stage, speculations about its size commence and so does fluctuation of the price of cotton seed in the market.
Farmers are placed under pressure before the crop’s arrival in the market. The game, played by an unholy alliance of all variety of speculators and rake off experts, is forcing farmers to sell at low rates.
The government seems to have finally woken up to this yearly occurrence that is actually organized crime against cotton growers, particularly small farmers; big landowners have means to safeguard, indeed further their interests under all dispensations. Their network of ginning factories and textile mills provides them protection and profits.
The federal government has ostensibly decided to counter negative factors in the cotton growing sector and has come up with the recipe of joint monitoring of prices by the ministries of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) and Commerce.
Their monitoring plus intervention by the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) is the official prescription for ensuring that farmers receive fair return for their physical, financial and professional investment in the cotton crop.
TCP is a familiar player on the cotton scene but it is hard to recall the last time, for that matter any stage when its previous forays in the market and efforts to stabilize prices to protect growers against a ride yielded worthwhile results. Its record reminds one of the manner in which police operates, arriving late on the scene of the crime.
It gets into action when small farmers have already been skinned and then concentrates on bailing privileged farmers and their low quality produce. In view of this background, TCP’s contribution this year can only be viewed with suspicion, if not with distrust, at least at the present stage.
Reports about prospects of the crop now in the fields are based on a larger area of cotton cultivation this year. Normally, this should have been convincing reason to expect a bigger crop but the water situation has been acute; that places a question mark about its size.
Availability of water is crucial for the crop and there can be, at least there should not be any declaration about the size till the last watering has been successfully carried out across cotton fields.
Punjab, the largest cotton land in the country has been pressing IRSA, the government’s water distribution body, to increase supplies for the standing crops of cotton and sugar cane.
This is hardly conducive for ensuring optimum results from the crop that is now in the home stretch. The issue should have been resolved much before if the purpose was providing sufficient water for the crops.
I talked about the crop with some farmers and found them optimistic about the yield from their farms provided water availability was according to requirements. They were less than satisfied with irrigation till the middle of September.
Weather conditions were fortunately conducive for the crop’s growth but shortage of water had left many farmers uncertain of the produce. There were other negative factors like the possibility of pest attack and availability of fertilizers and pesticides too but water headed the list of their requirements.
Some of the actions of the federal government may have unwittingly undermined the growth of the crop while cotton was in the fields. Joint monitoring of seed cotton price by two ministries is a positive and welcome step but the ministries could also have adopted a collective approach for the benefit of the crop by intervening to ensure continuous supply of DAP.
That the government intended to reduce the price of phosphate fertilizer became widely known much before the decision was made public. Policy makers of Pakistan are not reputed for keeping their plans to themselves, either because they deem secrecy unnecessary or there are elements with capacity to find out things for quick profits.
Timely hoarding of stocks and delayed imports produce fat profits; who cares if they are the cost of crops. As a result of information reaching profiteers before official announcement, stocks of DAP were reportedly withheld by some dealers.
It has not been ascertained if that caused a shortage of fertilizer for growers and affected the crop but the importance of timely application of fertilizers cannot be over emphasized as they make a vital contribution towards the nourishment of crops.
The impact of fertilizers on crops has assumed great importance in recent times because many fields have suffered considerable loss of fertility over the years because of over-use.
The quality of land in Pakistan has considerably suffered because it has been exploited without respite and no steps have been taken for restoring its productivity. Fertilizer application has thus come to play a major role in agriculture sector’s productivity.
Pests are another factor that affects cotton. Estimates of the crop’s size had to be revised downwards more than once in the past few years because of late invasion of pests.
Cultivation area is the starting point but it is not the only point for determining the produce. It represents the potential, not the final output. As such, the government should always be careful about predicting the size of any crop, let alone those that can be subjected to price speculations.
Hasty estimates and officials and public sector experts believing in their predictions can trigger untold problems. This has already been witnessed in the case of wheat in the preceding season when MINFAL bosses were enthusiastically declaring a high crop but ended up importing wheat to meet domestic consumption needs.
This did not cause embarrassment to MINFAL because, by the time the advantage of being wheat sufficient country was squandered, the ministry underwent a change of political and civilian officials.
Every one was given a new assignment, presumably to create a new mess in another sector. No one seems accountable for the fact that considerable damage was inflicted on the country and that the farming sector, the backbone of the national economy, suffered a major set back.
It does not follow that the size of crops should not be calculated at any stage but that finality in estimates better be avoided and no harm would be done if they are on the lower side.
On the other hand, when high expectations are not met, a lot crashes down besides the estimate of a crop’s size. In the case of cotton, it would involve imports for the textile sector, a development that mars earnings from exports.
The officially expected yield this year is 10.7 million bales. Such a produce would be a good crop but not a bumper one by any means. Last year’s support price of 925 rupees per 40 kg of phutti has been maintained by the government.
In the ultimate, however, the price would follow the international pattern. Which means this would be the minimum rate while a higher rate is not to be ruled out if there is a world wide escalation in the price of seed cotton.
The task before TCP and the monitoring teams representing two ministries is thus not merely ensuring that farmers receive the support price but that they are not deprived of a better deal if the international market follows an upward trend in the rate for seed cotton.
It should go without saying that growers should have at least as much right to sell at the same rates at which textile millers are allowed to import their requirements. That would be fair price. Can TCP, MINFAL and Commerce ministry guarantee that? Their success in safeguarding the rights of the farming community would determine whether they worked for cotton growers or, as has been the case in the past, simply served special interests in the name of equity.
Courtesy : The DAWN