Asim Nisar Chaudhary

There is good news for the cotton sector. The cotton production has been in decline over the past few years. But this season the cotton crop is estimated at over 9 million bales as compared to last year’s production of under 6 million bales. The amount disbursed as crop value to cotton farmers last year was Rs 200 billion, while this year, due to higher prices, the amount will exceed Rs 600 billion.

Reports from the field are encouraging. Ginners recorded a 93.73 percent rise in cotton stockpiling, collecting 5.208 million bales till October 15, 2021 with government expecting to meet or exceed this year’s revised target of 9.3 million bales. Ginners had collected 2.688 million bales till the same period last year. According to the Pakistan Ginners Association (PGA) fortnightly report, inflows stood at 1.362 million bales this year, up from last year’s 0.781 million bales. This year’s bi-monthly inflow is 581,009 bales higher than last year, raising hopes for farmers who suffered from last year’s low yields.

Ginners in Punjab and Sindh collected 2.266 million and 2.942 million bales, respectively. Arrivals from Punjab increased 86.7 percent, while from Sindh the amount doubled. By end of the cotton season, government expects 5.44 million bales from Punjab, 3.5 million bales from Sindh, 0.43 million bales from Balochistan, and 4,000 bales from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Without doubt, cotton is the lifeline of Pakistan’s farmers and a source of raw material to more than 400 textile companies. However, over the last 10 years, cotton production has fallen by over 60 percent — from 14.81 million bales to 5.65 million bales (2020/21 season). This has caused serious losses to Pakistan’s textile sector. This decline in production has increased dependence on imported cotton. The economy has incurred a cost of 5.76 billion dollars (from FY16 to FY20) to import 19.5 million bales to meet the demands of the domestic textile industry. In FY21, $1.5 billion cotton imports were required, thereby putting additional burden on the Balance of Payments. But this year the international prices for cotton have increased from a low of 60 cents to over $1 per pound at present.

Cotton is the bedrock of textile exports which account for over 50 percent of our total forex earnings. As such we should give special attention to ensure that cotton production increases with time. Experts have for long underlined the need to undertake research on developing new cotton seed, as the current cotton seed is low yield. We need to develop high yielding varieties which are resistant to insects/pests attack and the ill effects of weather variations.

Over the past decade a large number of cotton farmers have turned to sugarcane, rice and corn which provide better returns to growers. The priority given to the sugar industry has led to the replacement of cotton as Pakistan’s dominant crop, costing Pakistan an additional 10 billion dollars in the last 5 years. The area encroached upon by sugar would be far more fruitful with cotton cultivation, adding an additional 0.25 percent to Pakistan’s GDP along with a minimum 1.27 percent of additional wheat contribution to GDP, if a mere half of the sugarcane production area reverts to cotton.

In a welcome move All Pakistan Textile Mills Association has launched an initiative to improve the cotton sector’s performance through APTMA Cotton Foundation (ACF). The Cotton Foundation is dedicated to establishing knowledge centers and research labs, particularly biotech labs, while collaborating with international research institutions. The labs will collect data from all over Pakistan to maintain a database, allowing scientists to devise data-driven solutions to cotton issues.  ACF has taken steps to create cotton clusters and centers of excellence, and promote model farming techniques. Research centers would educate farmers for pre- and post-harvest care. Moreover, education and training campaigns will be run throughout the year to keep the farmers up-to-date on every aspect of cotton cultivation.

The foundation will also develop a bank for mechanized tools to be made available to members of each cluster, on a cost-sharing basis, thereby improving the quality and yield of cotton. The foundation is also geared towards providing a platform for collective procurement of quality inputs at lower costs, creating economies of scale. Technological support through digital mapping and drones will provide a targeted approach to fertilizer and pesticide use and take cotton farming into a new, technologically driven era.

The growth of value-added exports in FY21 (37% growth in knitwear, 32% in towel, 29% in bed wear, 19% in garments) shows the potential of the cotton/textile sector to boost the national economy. To this end it is important to adopt all possible measures for the revival of cotton crop in the country. Modern and mechanized cotton farming, the establishment of fiber testing laboratories, as well as seed testing and biotechnology labs of international standards will go a long way in raising  cotton productivity and helping the textile sector to realize its full export potential.

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