LAHORE: Punjab has, so far, sown cotton on 1.18m acres or 29.25pc against its total target of four million acres and hopes that the sowing process would quicken after Eidul Fitr when wheat harvesting gets completed and fields are cleared.

However, there are growing fears for squeezing up of the window for sowing. Eid is likely to fall on May 15, which leaves only two weeks to complete sowing on just under three million acres by the end of May. If sowing extends deeper into June, hot weather may hit the germination.

The Punjab Crop Reporting Service officials fear that the cotton sowing may terminate at 3.33m acres, not four million acre – representing almost 17pc drop in acreage if taken in the backdrop of provincial target.

“Our fears are based on the last year’s figures when the crop covered 3.82m acres. This year, cotton may end up at 3.33m acres, or a further drop of 12.70pc– spelling further disaster for the crop,” says an official of the service. If 3.33 million acres, as expected by the service, is taken as true, the farmers have already sown crop on 35.40pc. Last year, by now, 33.61pc cotton sowing was complete, he adds,

Sowing may quicken after Eidul Fitr

In order to incentivise the crop, Punjab is offering Rs1,000 subsidy on seed of approved varieties in some districts – Bahawalpur, DG Khan, Multan, Mianwali and Bhakkar – and Faisalabad division and hopes to get better results.

The cotton planners in the province think that cotton crop may get close to the target or at least equal to the last year’s acreage.

“There are a number of factors in play in favour of the crop this year,” says Dr Asif, vice chancellor of Nawaz Sharif University, Multan. Due to exceptional decline in output this year, the market rate has improved a lot – giving farmers an incentive for the next crop. Farmers in and around Cholistan desert are still having better yield and returns because of low humidity and good harvest. All these factors are expected to play a role in favour of the crop and keep it on the area at least equal to last year, he hopes.

“The industry has also realised that it has to pay the farmers better price in order to keep the crop in good supply,” says Muhammad Arshad, a ginner from the central Punjab. This is precisely why the rate is hovering over Rs12,000 per 40Kg right now and inching upwards.

The All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (Aptma) had also suggested to the federal government to give subsidy to the cotton farmers at the rate of at least Rs15,000 per acre this season and create some benchmark for the lowest rate. Though it has not happened this year but it is now part of planning of Aptma.

It is hard for the industry and even harder for the government to spend billions of dollars every year on import of cotton and keep the industry running. Last year, the country spent around $1.4bn and this year’s bill might jump closer to $3bn– a financially suicidal amount in the current circumstances. It is better to pay local farmers than to foreigners in foreign currency.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2021

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