THE whitefly attack on the cotton crop is back to haunt growers from south Punjab. Market news suggests a substantial decrease in crop arrivals for ginning following the pest’s onslaught. Conflicting reports are pouring in from the affected districts, however. Traders are expecting the overall national output to remain at 8-9m bales against the official target of 12m for the ongoing harvest. Earlier, healthy cotton arrivals, which rose 50pc to over 3m bales from last year by the end of August, had spawned hopes that production targets would be met. The reduced crop size will be a major setback for our textile exports and widen the trade gap. Some farmers nonetheless say that the scale of the attack, which is caused by rising temperatures in the cotton belt, isn’t as large or intense as is being propagated by traders. The government is yet to make its own assessment of potential crop losses. Yet, all are predicting that the output will be much less than the targeted production, even if the harvest remains higher than last year’s 5m bales.
The Punjab authorities have started taking measures to save the crop in the affected areas, with army helicopters and drones called in to spray pesticides to control the whitefly, which not only reduces the crop’s size and affects its quality but can also spread plant viruses. It is too early to say if the measures will contain production losses and the spread of pest infestation. However, it is clear that the agriculture department is not doing its job properly. Whitefly attacks on the cotton crop are not uncommon; we hear about them almost every year when the temperature goes up in the cotton-sowing areas of Punjab and Sindh. It is imperative that an early warning system is created to initiate timely action for protecting the crop from pests and farmers from financial losses as soon as the weather starts to take an unfavourable turn.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2023