LAHORE, July 8: The Farmers Associates Pakistan (FAP) cautioned the Punjab government on Monday against attack of American bollworm on cotton and demanded a committee of experts to “look into the matter, gauge the damage it has wreaked and potential risks” for the crop.

The demand came after farmers, in a meeting, reported that all BT varieties seemed to be under threat despite proclaimed resistance of the variety, particularly against the American bollworm. This is a worrisome situation given the importance of crop in the national economy which remains a mono-crop economy. The scenario can turn disastrous if the provincial government does not immediately form a committee of experts to estimate the extent of damage and suggest remedial measures. Later briefing the press, FAP chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi lamented that the government had not given any priority to agriculture in the budget. Instead, it had taken a few steps that could burden the sector, he said.

“The upward revision of electricity rates is one such step which will surely make water more expensive. So will the increase of the general sales tax on all agriculture inputs. Apart from making inputs more expensive, the GST is an exercise in self-defeat, both theoretically and practically. Theoretically speaking, the GST is a consumptive tax and cannot be levied on productive inputs like fertiliser, pesticides and implements,” he claimed.

He said the earlier increase in the GST had made inputs more expensive and led them out of financial reach of farmers. Consequently, the urea consumption dropped by over 18 per cent and DAP by 24 per cent.

Decrease in off take took a heavy toll on wheat and cotton crop: their yield fell by Rs275 billion this year -- wheat by Rs125 billion and cotton by Rs150 billion, he said.

On the other hand, Mr Qureshi said the government collected only Rs71 billion in the GST on all agriculture inputs, adding that if the loss to other crops is included, the figure could spike steeply. “This being rupee and dollar foolish; collecting rupee in taxes and spending dollar on imports to meet the shortfall,” he claimed.

The FAP also demands that the federal government should delink agriculture from general discussions and agreement on the Most Favoured Nation status to India and deal with issue separately.

The US also took agriculture out of NAFTA when negotiating with Canada and Mexico. Pakistan needs to go that way. The WTO allows it to slap non-tariff barriers where required and Pakistan should study the option. “Even the cabinet approval of the MFN was conditional, linked to creation of level playing field. Why not take that route? ” he asked.

Similarly, the seed certification process, which has been thrown to provinces, creates confusion because provinces have not created provincial replicas of federal structure.

The current cotton crisis finds in roots in the seed sector where no-one knows who is selling what in the name of BT cotton. The provincial government should move quickly on the issue.

“Unless, it brings some sanity in the seed sector, the Punjab will never be able to take off agriculturally, and, by extension, economically,” he concluded.