The government must realize the problems and plight of poor farmers and should not hesitate from learning as to how our neighbouring countries India and China redressed their agriculture sector problems.

Dec 25 - 31, 2006

The government announced a comprehensive policy for increasing the growth and production of cotton under the Cotton Vision 2015 during the month of July this year. Admittedly, cotton and cotton products contribute 68 percent to our national exports. Besides this, cotton also contributes 20 percent to the economy through its domestic consumption. In this way the share of cotton in the national economy constitutes 88 percent

Cotton plays a very important role in the major crops pattern of Pakistan. Cotton crop provides employment opportunities to a good number of people. Pakistan is categorized as the third country in the world in cotton export. So far as cotton consumption is concerned, Pakistan stands fourth in the world. It is the biggest exporter of yarn in the world. Textile is the biggest industry of Pakistan and cotton serves as the basic raw material in textile industry.

Cotton seed is used as raw material in producing vegetable ghee and oil expellers. Cotton produced in Pakistan is of very fine quality and has a great demand in the world. Growing, caring, harvesting and marketing of cotton is very time consuming, cumbersome and labour intensive job. Production of 30 million cotton bales and 60 million tons of wheat in Pakistan is not impossible. If we trace back the history of cotton and wheat production in Pakistan, we would come across many inspiring facts as regards the will and hard work of our farmers but at the same time many disappointing and frustrating realities about the shortsighted and unkind policies and decisions of the government.

In 1962-63, we got an increase in wheat production by 42 percent, for which a comprehensive pre-planning was carried out at a cost of one billion rupees. Not only we attained self-sufficiency in food production but we could also export wheat to Iran to the tune of Rs.6 billion. Since 1963 more or less 73 lakh acres of land is being cultivated from which we have been getting 52 lakh of bales of cotton and we could not meet our targets. The year 1984 was the first year when the production surpassed the target. While the target was 55 lakh bales, the production reached 64 lakh bales.

But 1983 proved a very difficult year for the cotton growers. In spite of spending a lot of money on the usual inputs, water, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, sprays etc. we could only get a production of 28 lakh bales. Some other factors responsible for this miserably low production were excessive rainfalls, contaminated and fake chemical sprays, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides etc. imported in Pakistan.

Next year, i.e 1984 when the target was fixed at 55 lakh bales, the production jumped to 64 lakh bales. It was the first time that production of cotton exceeded the target. How did it come about? This became possible by using improved seeds, application of the knowledge of research work, experts' opinions and scientific ways in agriculture passed on to farmers through extension workers. As cotton crop in the world as a whole had a crisis in 1983, the price of cotton rose from Rs.260 to Rs.450 per mound. This increase in the price of cotton tempted the farmers to work with more devotion and dedication in the year 1984 and thereafter. The production went on rising every year exceeding the targets from 1984 to 1992.

Following figures would give a clear picture of the targets and achievements in this connection:



















The increase in production was 35 percent within one year. An increase by 13 percent internationally is considered as a record increase. As is apparent, there was an upward trend of production from 1984 to 1996. According to the data provided by the government for 10-year period ending 2004-05 there was an increase of 6 percent. This is also attributed to 2 percent increase of the area of land brought under cultivation hence the real increase in production of cotton was 4 percent only during the aforementioned 10-year period. The government's unwise and hostile policies also affected the farmers and economically broke their backbone during the year 1992 when cotton production, being 127 lakh bales had reached its peak. Our domestic requirement was then 70 lakh bales. A bargain was struck for 57 lakh bales at 68 cents per lb, which was in accordance with the international market rates. Subsequently, instead of honouring the bargain, Pakistan sold out the stock of cotton to India and that too at gravely low rate viz. 33 cents per lb on March 26, when there was no other customer in the world market to buy our cotton at that belated stage.

Instead of selling cotton at Rs.1500 per mound, it was sold out at Rs.600. Atop of it, Pakistan was penalized and fined heavily for backing out and dishonouring an international deal. It was the farmer community, which was manipulatively made to suffer this loss and not those who were actually responsible for it. Like 'the last straw that breaks the camel's back', the government's decision impoverished the farmers, who have not yet come out of the strain of that loss. This gave a great setback to the production as well. Ever-since that time, our growth of cotton, which was going up and up every year, is coming down with the same speed. It is yet to be investigated as to why the international bargain once struck at a reasonable rate was rescinded and another deal made for sale of cotton to India at a throw-away price. It smells something fishy at the bottom and such mysterious and seemingly underhand acts must not be allowed to be kept and swept under the carpet.

According to a news reports, during the period, July-October, the textile and cotton sector exports fell by 9 percent while the non-textile/cotton exports fell by 34 percent. This situation would not have arisen had the government made policies to avoid or minimize this downfall. The government at every moment is required to be vigilant so that its mission for progression does not suffer retrogression if it is serious to make its Cotton Vision 2015 a real success. Such shortfalls at any stage are not good omens for the country, for the farmers, for the economy and for Cotton Vision 2015 so sumptuously being given media coverage.

Makhdum Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Chairman Farmers Association of Pakistan and District Nazim Multan had stated that about 4 million bales of cotton were lying unsold in fields as there was no buyer. He regretted that while the minimum fixed price of Phutti was Rs.780 per 40kg, fine quality Phutti was being offered at as low a price as Rs.680. Thus growers are facing great financial stringency.

He emphasized that agricultural marketing system should be revamped so that growers may not suffer. He also pointed out that TCP purchase policy was also not favourable and helpful to growers and ginners. The government must be prompt, considerate and responsive to rescue the poor farmers whenever the situation demands. An official announcement after a meeting of Prime Minister with the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock testifies that the Prime Minister has proposed that Cotton Vision should give coverage to all aspects to assist all activities, including growers' interests, per acre yield, linkage between production and demand both in local and international markets and research on BT/hybrid and contamination-free cotton. This shows good planning and good intentions on the part of the government but the ground realities must synchronize with the theories and plans.

The government must realize the problems and plight of the poor farmers of the country and our rulers should not hesitate to learn from neighbouring countries, India and China, on how to redress the problems of the agriculture sector. China has altogether exempted levying of land revenue throughout its vast land and India is providing free electricity for agriculture purposes. Their policies are very much favourable to farmers. That's why the yields per acre of major crops in these countries are much higher than those in Pakistan. Our resource - poor farmers - need domestic support. The government should, therefore, redirect and spare more resources to develop our rural communities and to patronize the small farmers. The World Bank and IMF have time and again argued that lands in large farms remain unutilized and the production by small farmers is far more. They desire that small farmers should be provided the requisite facilities.

Developed countries are using their own tactics in giving subsidies to their farmers so lavishly under the umbrella of green box of WTO's domestic support. Why can't a developing country like Pakistan do so? Agriculture is the only single sector (with so many sub-sectors), which can rescue and salvage the country from poverty and unemployment and bring progress, prosperity and boost the national economy, provided our policy-makers and bureaucracy do not play foul with this neglected sector. If the government is seriously interested to achieve its targets as envisaged in "Cotton Vision 2015", loans already outstanding against small land owners should be written off to give them a bit of financial relief.

Fresh loans should be given on soft terms with mark-up not exceeding 6-8 percent per annum. Prices of cotton should be decided well in time. Extension service should be provided constantly and invariably embodying the research information, opinions of agriculture experts and methods and techniques of modern and scientific farming by practical demonstration and training in the fields.

Supply of irrigation water, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, sprays, etc. should be arranged without delay and without fail. No pick and choose be made in favouring the big landlords and depriving the small farmers. Farmers should be protected from exploitations of middle-man and cotton ginners. Optimistically not only targets would be achieved, but they could be even surpassed. The scribe also feels it necessary to add that our policies should also not skip the attention of our policy makers from other major crops like wheat, rice, gram and pulses to maintain a balance and to avoid the need of importing these food products from other countries.