THE report that domestic cotton production has declined to a four-decade low of 4.9m bales this year has added to the deepening economic gloom in the country. Ginning data shows that the cotton harvest declined by a hefty 34pc this year from 7.44m bales the previous year, mainly because of the catastrophic summer floods in Sindh and southern Punjab where this industrial crop is mostly grown. Sindh has suffered a 46pc loss in cotton output, with Punjab posting a 32pc decline, forcing the textile industry to import significantly large quantities. Though most of the crop losses this season were caused by the floods, Pakistan’s cotton economy has been facing numerous challenges due to consistently falling production over the last couple of decades, after touching a high of 11.1m bales in 2004-05. The most recent production spike of 10.6m bales was seen almost 10 years ago in 2014. Meanwhile, in comparison, global production elsewhere in the world, especially in India, has been increasing rapidly to record levels.
There are several factors responsible for the poor cotton harvest, year after year, ranging from pests and disease, erratic weather patterns and water shortages to poor seed quality, lower per acre yield and a large reduction in the area under cultivation because of government policies encouraging sugarcane and other major crops in traditional cotton-sowing regions. With average annual production dropping to almost half the actual requirement of the textile industry, textile and clothing exports have suffered a great deal in the last one decade. Additionally, cotton imports, a major driver of the economy, are adding to our balance-of-payments woes. Textile exports during the first eight months of the present fiscal year plunged by almost a third because of slowing global demand as well as shortages of the local fibre. With the industry having invested billions of dollars in technology replacement by spinners, its future competitiveness depends largely on the increased availability of domestic cotton.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2023