Sep 8 - 14, 2008

The government's target of cotton production this year of 14.12 million bales will probably receive a downfall due to the pests attacks especially of mealy bug reported to have intensified in Punjab and Sindh because of heavy rains. If Pakistan misses its target of 14.12 million bales during 2008 then it would be the fourth such year continuously suffering shortage in production.

One assessment of last year's cotton production was 12.3 million bales while another estimate is that it was 11.6 million bales. There is thus an expected shortfall of 13 percent as compared to the target for this year. The area under cultivation has dropped by 15 percent. The loss in the area would have to be made good through increasing the yield per acre. Last year's target was 14 million bales, which was missed as 17 percent of the crop was damaged by mealy bug.

Most of the farmers and traders believe that the national output would be around 12.5 bales and three million bales of cotton will have to be imported to meet the requirements of the country's textile sector, which will cost $500 million to $600 million. Consequently, edible oil production would also suffer and resultantly import bill will increase and trade deficit would further worsen. Pressure would also be exerted on livestock feed as oil cake is entirely derived from cotton.

Factors responsible for the shortfall of production:

- The most important factor contributing towards low production estimates is reduction in cotton area by 10 percent as compared to the last year. There are vast areas lying vacant

in Balochistan and Sindh, which can be cultivated and cotton area can be increased for getting more production, for which the will of the government is essentially needed.

- Water scarcity at the time of sowing: A lot has been emphasized in print and electronic media for construction of dams and water reservoirs to cater to the need of irrigation, however, there is no development. Abundant rain water is wasted during the monsoons. Seasonal canals and water channels, wherever feasible, can be built to use this water proficiently instead of causing damage and devastation.

- Absence of support prices: Support prices of cotton, wheat, rice and sugarcane

must be announced well in time i.e. before sowing the crop, so that farmers, feeling tempted, may work hard and may make proper investment of money, time, inputs and labour to get maximum benefit at the time of harvest of these crops.

Drastic drop in the use of fertilizers because of their non-availability and sky-rocketing prices thereof in the market: Prices of pesticides have gone up by 30 percent and the farmers, according to an estimate, would be buying pesticides for a colossal amount of Rs.28 billion, which they bought for Rs.15 billion during the last year. Thus the usage of pesticides is likely to drop drastically. The farmers stopped purchase of DAP because of exceedingly high prices and urea was not available in the market because of hoarding.

- Up to 50 percent sowing of BT cotton was of unknown and unreliable origin. Of course, it is the government's duty to ensure that certified seeds and fertilizers are made available to farmers and that too on time. Lack of advanced technologies is a big disadvantage. R&D centres such as National Institute of Bio-technology and Generic Engineering (NIBGE) Faisalabad and Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CMBH), University of the Punjab Lahore have reportedly submitted applications to the National Bio-Safety Committee (NBC) for their approval for commercialization and field trial of their versions of Bt cotton developed by them respectively for their Bt cotton variety: "IR-FH-901" and cotton variety, "MHH-93", and "CIM-482". National Bio-Safety Committee is considering both these applications under the Bio-Safety Rules 2005. We are optimistic that the said committee must have studied these applications and have satisfied themselves with regard to the environmental safety and viability of these varieties and would accord their approval keeping the supreme national interest in view before it is too late.

- Poor agronomic practices: Extension Service Staff of Agriculture Department, well equipped with the knowledge, must visit fields and give guidance to farmers on progressive and modern cultivation and how to control or minimize losses due to pests like mealy bug. On-line help of Agriculture Department will not do as that is only a telephonic assistance while farmers need to be guided in the field by demonstration.

- In the last 2 - 3 months, the price of diesel has increased by Rs.18-20 per litre. This means that agriculture sector will have to pay an additional Rs.36-38 billion because of increase in diesel prices.

- Tube-well electricity bills at the new high tariff are grossly adding to the cost of production. The tariff rates need to be rationalized to ease out the situation.

- Attack of mealy bug on vast areas of cotton crop in Sindh and Punjab: As regards attack of the pest on cotton crop, mealy bug had attacked some 12 percent of the crop in Punjab in the first week of August as compared to only 5 percent last year. Mealy bug attack was one of the main reasons, which had badly hampered the cotton target last year. No effective and remedial steps seem to have been taken by the government agencies to help the farmers to control the pest and minimize the damage to the crop this year. To control mealy bug, a product "Mineral Oil" was tested on cotton crop last year in four federal and provincial research institutes namely Plant Protection Institute, Faisalabad, Entomological Research Institute, Faisalabad, Central Cotton Research Institute, Multan and Agriculture Pest Warning and Quality Control Punjab.

After evaluating the product, these institutes gave positive results. On their recommendations on April 3, 2008, the Agricultural Pesticides Technical Advisory Committee (APTAC) decided to request the provincial governments to educate the farmers on using the mineral oil and to encourage importers to ensure timely import and availability of this product and other quality pesticides. Then on July, 2008 the ECC in their meeting decided that the mineral oil import will be zero rated. There are apprehensions that the delay was deliberate and was meant to support the vested interests in the pesticide sector.

President Kissan Board, Tehsil Multan, Fayazul Hassan Bhutta was of the considered opinion that after the availability of mineral oil the usage of insecticides and pesticides will be reduced to one fifth. According to him, with the mineral oil only 20 mili litre insecticide would be enough against one litre while the required number of sprays will also be reduced.

- Heavy rains and floods in some areas of the country have caused great damage to crops,farmers' households and livestock.

- Non-availability of passbooks: Non-availability of passbooks is termed as a main hurdle for securing credit from the banks by farmers in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Cotton crop needs a good amount of investment on inputs including fertilizers, pesticides, sprays and labour. Without getting agricultural loans from Banks, farming especially cotton farming is well nigh impossible. The problems should be resolved by activating the Revenue Department in issuing passbooks to the interested farmers without any inordinate delay. One window operation, as already in vogue in the province of Punjab, should be launched in both these provinces to speed up credit facilities to the agriculture sector. The other problem being encountered by farmers in Sindh and Balochistan is that in some of the remote areas, there is no branch of a bank from which they could get the credit. This should also be facilitated by the State Bank of Pakistan as early as possible.

- It has been observed that benefits of subsidies are not reaching small farmers, while on the other hand the cost of agricultural inputs has gone so high that many of the farmers cannot afford to buy and use fertilizers and pesticides. That is the reason why Pakistan is among the lowest in the world in terms of per acre yield. Obviously, the result is low yield. Last year our per acre yield of cotton was only 17 maunds while China, India and some other countries are producing 35-40 maunds of cotton per acre. By increasing cotton yield by one maund per acre, it has been estimated that an additional Rs.11 billion can be earned.

- For quite some time it is being propagated by the federal and provincial governments that major crops will have an adequate insurance coverage. It will be a goodwill gesture if crops, especially cotton, are given comprehensive coverage against pests, diseases, locust, floods, heavy rains and drought to provide some relief and comfort to farmers when their crops are affected by these calamities.