Cotton is known as “white gold” due to its preciousness and utility in human life. Pakistan is the world’s fifth largest producer of cotton, and the cotton crop is inevitable for the economy of Pakistan.

The export of cotton and textile products has a share of around 60 per cent in the country’s overall exports. It contributes around 0.6pc to GDP and 2.4pc towards agriculture’s value-added segment.

Cotton was grown over 15pc of the total cultivated area of Pakistan, which has been reduced to 10pc. Approximately 62pc of Pakistan’s cotton is produced in Punjab, and the rest is grown in Sindh, with a negligible area under cotton in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Since the plantation of the cotton crop, the highest area under cotton crop was 3.19 million hectares during 2004-05, with the highest ever production of 14.26m bales compared to 2.06m ha and 4.91m bales in 2022-23. This means there has been a 36pc area reduction and 66pc decline from its peak production. Furthermore, it has been 41pc less productive since last year.

Early sowing, adequate application of pesticides and fertilisers, and abundance of water can increase domestic production

This drastic decline in cotton production is because less area has been sown, as well as a drop in average yield. This has increased the textile industry’s dependence on imported lint to fulfil the industrial demand of 16 million bales. Currently, demand for lint may be less due to a partial shutdown of textile industries.

The fall in cotton production is mainly due to farmers’ reluctance to grow cotton crops because of less return from cotton crops and good return from the substituted crops like sugarcane, maize and rice. Over the years, farmers have shifted from cotton to sugarcane, maize, rice, sesame and mung crops and ultimately, cotton acreage has decreased.

This drop in cotton cultivation has primarily occurred in Punjab, where cultivation declined by 23pc in the last five years.

Firstly, the existing varieties are not resilient against sucking pests such as whitefly, thrips & jassid and chewing pests like pink bollworms. In addition, these varieties are not resilient to harsh weather and terminate early in September and October.

Secondly, the unavailability of quality and certified seeds in the market results in less germination. Lastly, abrupt climate change, high temperature and drought conditions during germination and height-attaining stages, and heavy rainfalls at the boll-formation and boll-opening stages result in lower yields and profitability.

It is the government’s responsibility to provide constant and abundant water at the time of sowing and germination to the cotton belt in May and June

Cotton is the backbone of the national economy, and its revival is inevitable for the country’s survival. The government has already taken a step to revive it by fixing the cotton support at Rs8,500 per 40 kg.

There needs to be more than this one initiative to completely restore the cotton crop.

Farmers must complete cotton sowing as early as possible, maximum up to 20th May, because the experience of the last two to three years indicates that only when the crop is sown early does it give a good yield.

Three to four heat-tolerant, bushy type, medium-sized, and small-leaved varieties should be planted which performed well and gave good yields during the last few years, such as SS-32 and SS-102.

It is the government’s prime responsibility to provide constant and abundant water at the time of cotton sowing and germination to the cotton belt in May and June.

Balanced nutrition is an excellent tool to combat the changing climate conditions. Applying 1.5 bags of Sona Diammonium phosphate and a half bag of sulphate of potash (SOP) per acre at sowing time near the root zone gives good results. Phosphorus enhances the root system and directly increases the putti yield. Potash and sulphur in SOP develop resistance in cotton plants against heat stress, pest and disease attack and adverse weather.

Phutti yield can also be improved by applying 6kg zinc sulphate & Sona boron — use half a bag of urea during the first two or three applications.

An integrated pest management programme must be launched to properly control sucking pests and pink bollworms. Avoid spraying pesticides for sucking pests as many days as possible during the initial 40 to 50 days so that insects beneficial for the cotton crop stay alive. If sprays are unavoidable, then spay the alternate group of quality pesticides.

The writer is an agri expert at the Fauji Fertiliser Company

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 5th, 2023

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