At a time when economy of the country is in a poor shape, the reports that cotton production this year may not exceed 13 million bales as against 14.80 million bales harvested last year are really disturbing. The reason for such gloomy estimates is the situation prevailing in the Punjab province. The latest phutti arrival figures indicate that only 9.257 million bales were harvested in Punjab up to February 15, 2013 as against 11.46 million bales in the same period last year.
Phutti arrivals at 2.12 million bales in the latest fortnight (February 1 to 15) also witnessed a huge shortfall of 10.27 percent. According to most farmers, standing cotton crop in Punjab was badly damaged by heavy rainfall at a time when plants were at the flowering stage and this resulted in a massive shedding of cotton balls in major cotton growing belts of the province. However, cotton crop in Sindh, after suffering badly during 2010-11 season due to heavy rains and floods, has been able to maintain a higher pace of phutti arrivals where 3.376 million bales were harvested so far, showing an increase of 28.52 percent over the corresponding period last season. However, since almost 80 percent of the crop is grown in Punjab, higher production in Sindh cannot fill the huge gap of over 2.21 million bales created by short crop in Punjab. Consequently, overall cotton production in the country was presently short by 10.37 percent or by 1.460 million bales as 12.63 million bales have been harvested so far as against 14.09 million bales produced in the corresponding period last year. Taking into account the position of phutti arrivals in the latest fortnight, it seems that the situation is not likely to get any better in the remaining part of the season.
The poor prospects of cotton crop could also be substantiated by the fact that during the fortnight ending 15th February, only 255,088 bales of cotton were produced as against 478,906 bales in the same period last year. Similarly, there was a lesser off-take of cotton from spinners who so far have purchased around 11.070 million bales as against 12.911 million bales lifted by them in the corresponding period last year.
The drop in cotton production as indicated by the latest reports could have negative repercussions on a number of areas of the economy and is definitely a cause of great worry. Despite some efforts towards diversity, Pakistan’s economy is still known as cotton economy since cotton encompasses a wide range of economic activities and determines the level of its overall status in a particular year to a great extent. Besides accounting for 7.8 percent of value-added in agriculture and 1.6 percent of GDP, cotton crop is responsible for industrialisation of the economy and provision of employment to a large chunk of population directly or indirectly. The most potent contribution is in the field of exports as nearly 65 percent of the country’s export earnings are received through the export of cotton and cotton-based products. Obviously, damage to the cotton crop on such a huge scale this year would be a great setback for the country’s economy, which could suffer immensely in a number of ways. However, while everybody would feel sorry for the loss to the economy due to a decline in cotton production, a million dollar question is whether such a damage could have been avoided by taking appropriate measures in the field. The answer to this question, though unpalatable to certain circles, would be certainly yes. In the last several years, Pakistan was able to minimise the negative impact of widespread attack of cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV) and other sucking pests by the timely use of BT cotton and certain other methods. It means that techniques could also have been developed to contain the damage of rains at the flowering stage through timely and appropriate measures. The tragedy is that the country has not devoted enough resources towards agricultural research to upgrade the use of technology in the agricultural sector and improve the skills of farmers to use latest techniques to pre-empt crop losses and increase the yields of various crops. The losses to crops, which could have been avoided, have been very frequent and this needs to be changed for the larger interest of the economy. Unfortunately, however, instead of enhancing the level of competence in the agricultural research, higher education in general has become a subject which neither the Federal government nor the provinces want to handle or adopt with sincerity at this stage. Agriculture is such a predominant field of economic activity in our life that it can only be ignored at great perils to the overall functioning of the economy.