LAHORE, Aug 1: With an exceptional delay in the monsoon showers, the cotton crop in Punjab has come under cotton leave curl virus (CLCV), which has increased by alarming seven per cent in the last one week.

Till a week ago, its spread was reported to around 11.34 per cent, which has now gone up to 18.1 per cent, ringing alarm bells in the official circles and among farmers. The major areas under attack are in districts of Khanewal, Pakpattan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Layyah and Muzaffaghar.

The agriculture department has already issued an advisory, suggesting curative measures for farmers who are now fearing a heavy loss.

“The trouble is that the department wants farmers to use balanced fertilisers,” says Afzal Maitla from Pakpattan. “The farmers, however, cannot afford Urea, leave alone adding other nutrients. The rising cost of production has taken much of such ‘luxuries’ out of majority of farmers’ reach. The farmers know that only vegetative growth would help them and plant survive, but they don’t have money,” he claimed.

Other measures include irrigation, says Azhar Hussain from Rahim Yar Khan. “Where would they (farmers) get water from? There are no rains. Farmers cannot run their tube-wells for two reasons: underground water is brackish and tube-wells are not an option for rising cost of diesel and absence of power. Diesel costs more than Rs100 per litter and electricity is simply not available in the rural areas. Where do the farmers go? They are simply helpless against the virus. Yes, they will do their best as far as manual management is concerned, but suggesting expensive measures would not help them,” he insisted.

“If the farmers lose a million bales, as they mostly do, to the CLCV, they and the economy would be suffering a direct loss of Rs26 billion at the current prices,” claims Akhtar Lalika of Vehari area. The government needs to realise the extent of damage and move accordingly on the issue. It must come up with some kind of package to ensure that farmers use right kind of fertiliser in right proportion. Otherwise, the entire agriculture cycle would suffer.

The cost of production of cotton has gone close to Rs50,000 per acre. Not many farmers can afford that kind of investment, especially when they are not sure of the return. This is a critical stage as the official advisory has rightly put, but the government also needs to realise seriousness of the issue instead of only aiming at the farmers and deflecting the responsibility.

It should chalk out a plan to save cotton, and lend farmers a helping hand. Issuing advisories to farmers does guide them but it is only of limited utility, especially if they cannot be acted upon (by farmers) for financial reasons,” he claimed and added: “The government better spare some money from its huge subsidy package and save the crop. It is only the beginning. However, it can quickly spin out of hand if urgent corrective measures are not taken.”