Export-led economic growth is on the agenda of the government and cotton is the most important export commodity of the country as cotton and cotton products accounts for 64 per cent of export receipts. However, despite its importance in the economy, cotton growth in Pakistan is generally of low grade due to which not only the raw cotton exports have been restricted, exported cotton-based products are fetching low prices.

Generally, the quality of cotton is determined by its colour, fibre length, strength, fitness and the degree to which the cotton is from contamination. Thus among others, one of the important factors which makes the quality of raw cotton low, is contamination. A contamination may be an impurity, which can affect the subsequent processes, product appearance or product quality in general. Contamination causes to produce low quality lint cotton, yarn and manufactured goods.

Pakistan’s cotton has large impurity content with high level of foreign matter, trash water contents and is considered poor as per international standards. These impurities have been reducing beneficial effect of improved cultivators and impairing not only the quality of raw cotton itself but also effect the subsequent processes of the textile products.

Punjab dominates in the production of cotton by producing 80 per cent of the country’s cotton. Six million acres of cotton has been planted in Punjab during the year 2001 as compared to 5.89 million acres last year. In the past, pricing and marketing of cotton was based on variety and weight. Payment by weight together with a lack of premium to pickers resulted in a very trashy and single grade contaminated cotton of low quality, which fetched low price. The cotton support price issued by the government was also based on variety without mentioning any premium for the contamination-free quality cotton.

This year, the government of Punjab has adopted a policy against contamination of cotton according to which only those farmers will get high price of their cotton who will supply it without any contamination. Contamination of raw cotton may take place at any level i.e. at farm while picking, at storage and marketing or at ginning. Cotton at the farm level is mainly contaminated before or at the time of picking in a number of ways. At the time of ball opening brackish and decayed seed cotton appears. Mixed picking of these balls also causes contamination.

In Punjab, traditionally, cotton is picked by rural women manually. Besides many benefits, a big problem of manual cotton picking is that cotton pickers are biggest source of cotton contamination. A number of impurities like pieces of leaves, immature and empty balls, stems, flowers, sticks and weeds, trash and dust, mix with cotton either due to carelessness of pickers.

It is common practice among cotton pickers that while picking cotton they make use of plastic bags and silk scarf’s, which mixed with cotton, comes up as an impurity at the time of spinning and dyeing of fibre, yarn and fabrics. Also, since cotton is mostly picked by women, human hair is mixed with cotton at the time of picking. It creates problems at the time of ginning, spinning and weaving and inflicts losses to the industry. In addition, women pickers normally make use of their dupatta or any surplus fabrics sheet or a cloth or polypropylene bags to collect the picked cotton. Contamination from these, mixes up with cotton resulting in substandard fibre.

Rural women start picking cotton early in the morning, before the dew has dried up. It affects the quality of cotton especially at the time of making bales and storage. There are also malpractices among cotton pickers to add water to cotton at different intervals to increase its weight. Thus they do get more wages but spoil the quality of cotton. Sometimes picked cotton is stored on wet soil or in watercourses, which spoils it.

Though often picked cotton is perfect in shape,it suffers contamination successively; first at the hands of cotton pickers and farmers and later at market and ginning factories. In Punjab generally wages to cotton pickers are paid in the form of cotton, who keep the cotton at their homes until a reasonable quantity is collected to sell it in the market. During the storage of cotton in their homes, cotton gets too many contaminations like human hair, toffee wrappers, birds feathers and small pieces of fabrics, polythene bags, etc. Also colour of the cotton changes if stored for a long time. The contaminated cotton is ultimately sold out to the market in the jute or propylene bags sewed with jute twine to be transported to the ginning factories.

Punjab province is mainly dominated by small farmers and 79 per cent of the total farms have holdings up to 12.5 acres. Most of these farmers produce cotton on small area of their holdings and hence the volume of cotton collected from their farms during the season would not be enough for them to sell it directly in the markets or to the ginning factories. Therefore, they often sell their produce at discount to traders who purchase cotton of the whole area. It is common practice among traders that they transport cotton to market with substandard, immature or contaminated stuff. They also, considering economy of transport, mix up cotton of two varieties or two grades of the same variety, grown in the same locality. It causes contamination of fibre. There is also malpractice among traders that they mix water or crystal salt to raw cotton to make cotton bags gain weight, which leads to further contamination.

The marketing of cotton in regulated markets is conducted in the open yards in gunny bags. Thus the cotton bags are exposed to dust, trees falls, bird dropping and rain. Also farmers and traders many times stay for days before they selling it. This delay in the selling makes it susceptible to risks of rainwater damages, theft, fire and further man-made contaminations inside the yards.

In Punjab cotton, is transported to ginning factories in trolleys or jute bags. After weighing, the cotton is shifted to factory courtyards to make heaps. The labour which unloads it, do not open the bags by unsewing the jute twine but just cutting it with knife and drop it to the heap. The small pieces of jute twine/polypropylene mix up in cotton. To make the these bags completely empty, are strongly beaten on the heap. This causes further contamination of cotton.

Effects: Because of contamination, cotton becomes sticky and creates spinning problems as well as creates waste by licking in rollers.

* Stickiness in turn creates problems in fabric dyeing and it causes wastage of dying materials.

* Extraneous matters are not completely removed in cleaning process and cotton yarn quality is affected by fragments of contamination materials getting embedded in yarn.

* Due to large wastage of raw materials, cost is inflated unnecessarily.

Precautions: Following measures may help in getting contamination-free cotton:

i. Mass media campaign be started to create awareness among rural women and farmers about proper picking, storage and supply of cotton.

ii. Picking of cotton be done under the supervision of trained growers and experts and cotton should only be picked in grey cloth. Since cotton pickers do not have the sufficient purchasing power, farmers, and ginning factory owners should provide this fabric.

iii. To avoid deterioration of cotton resulting from humidity, dew or rain, it is necessary that cotton should be picked when it, after receiving air and sunshine, is dried up.

iv. Cotton be picked variety-wise and kept it at dry pucca floors, in cloth bags. Picked cotton be labelled variety-wise and should be immediately transported from fields to market or ginning factories in trolleys made of metal bodies.

v. The cotton pickers’ charges should be paid in cash rather than in cotton itself.By doing so, contamination of cotton which occurs at pickers’ homes, can be avoided.

vi. Cotton dealers, traders, ginners and labour force working in factories should be trained in proper storage, marketing and ginning of cotton.

vii. To get contamination-free cotton, proper sheds and platforms in the markets should be built.

viii. While preparing heap, bags should be opened properly instead of cutting. Empty bags should not be beaten on the heap rather separately and obtained cotton should be cleaned, before it is added to the heap.

ix. Before ginning, contaminated cotton be cleaned up by the workers. Conveyers can be used to facilitate the operation.

x. Incentive schemes for traders should be started.

(The writer is the Chairman, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad,)



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