Cotton and Textile Vision 2025
By DR FAHEEM UDDIN
In facing the present challenges and preparing for the
future changes- the pictures of cotton production and
textile value- addition in Pakistan must be validated for
the decades to come. 'Where we should stand' is the ideal
command to explore new heights in the textile sector of
days textiles is no longer the trade of exporting fibres or
bales of cotton, it is an arena of marvellous fibrous
materials and products that may bear many times higher value
The value- chain of cotton production has an origin in
cotton crop. The cotton fibres obtained are used in
producing a variety of textile products from fibre to
fabric. The time has come to place higher priority for
raising the standards in value- addition rather limiting or
concentrating the approaches for increasing the fibre
Cotton crop is an earliest stage in the value- addition
chain of cotton- containing textiles. Cotton plant is most
technically demanding of all major agricultural crops if
good yield is desired. It is highly responsive to changes in
growing conditions. The requirements posed by 'how to grow
eco- friendly cotton' had introduced major concerns and
subsequent technological advancement in producing
environment- friendly cotton crop, and longer and finer
The global trends in demanding the eco- friendly products,
processes, and work conditions are undoubtedly justified for
healthier life standard. Poisoning or polluting air, land,
or water brings drastic hazards for men and animals.
In textile processing the concept of eco- friendly product
and process had received significant appreciation all over
the world; and the legislatory public enforcement in
developed countries are known for this purpose.
Indirectly, such enforcement had partly resulted in the
growth and development of conventional textile processing in
developing countries where low- waged work force and reduced
environment control are prevalent.
Over 200 institutions in more than 40 countries are
associated with the cotton production research. The subjects
of cotton breeding, genetics, entomology and agronomy all
have received research interest. There is more research
interest in breeding and genetics in China, India and
Pakistan. Significant research interest in entomology was
received in Australia and USA.
Being an agricultural crop, land labour/ farmers, water,
chemicals, fertilisers, and pesticides are the important
players in achieving the quantity and quality of cotton
yield. The current reliance of textile sector on cotton crop
in several countries had invested the possible means in
enhancing the number of cotton bales. Attempts are made to
increase the total land acreage, and yield per acre apart
from the technical support, research emphasis, public
An example is seen in Pakistan where recent years of cotton
crop has struggled somewhere around 10- 12 million bales of
cotton. However, realising the possible potential,
International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) had indicated
that cotton production could reach 17 million bales by 2010.
One of the primary concerns is to meet the requirement of
local textile industries where products range from fibre to
While the measures to enhance the fibre quality are
certainly demanding in offering the value- addition in
textile products; the prevailing environmental, human and
animal lives hazards posed the challenges, particularly at
places where preventive or protective control on the
toxicity of pesticide/ insecticide are not effectively
exercised, in the quantitative expansion of cotton crop.
In terms of revenue generation to national economy, the
chain of value- addition in cotton fibres and cotton
textiles provides an effective alternative to cotton crop
expansion. Any long term strategy in the development of
textile sector must appreciate in reality the significance
of value- addition from fibre length to smart textiles that
are emerging as engineering materials. More interestingly,
increased smartness and value- addition stands for increased
Expansion in cotton crop may be an expansion in limitations.
Cotton crop is naturally vulnerable to a variety of insects,
pest and diseases; therefore it is the largest consumer of
insecticides among all the crops. All insecticides are
classified as poison with a varying degree of toxicity to
warm blooded animals. Toxicity level indicates if a
particular insecticide is poisonous to animal.
The toxicity is generally classified as acute (severe) or
chronic (long term) and its effects are varied for animals
depending upon the specie, age, sex, and nature of dosage or
body contact. Mouth, nose (oral) and skin (dermal) provide
the contact places in living species.
In most of the industrialised countries occupational health
and safety offices provide exposure limits (short and long
term basis) at work places for the workers associated with
the handling of hazardous chemicals.
One way of determining the toxicity effect of insecticide on
living specie is lethal dosage expressed as milligrams of
toxicant per kilogram of live animal weight (mg/ kg). The
lethal dosage of a particular chemical is the dose that
kills 50 % of the animals exposed to it.
Few drops of a highly toxic insecticide may bear lethal
killing effect for a man population. A typical dosage for an
insecticide rated as toxic can be ranged over 1 ounce to 1
pound. Any insecticide exposure limit toxic to a farmer/
worker in USA is also toxic to a farmer working in India or
Pakistan. However, the significant difference in exercising
the control may pose serious undesired effects to living
Significant environmental movements in cotton production
between the period 1979- 81 and 1993 resulted in plant area
reduction globally by 10.4 %. This reduction was observed in
ex- USSR (7.5%), Sudan (69%), Brazil (planting area reduced
to less than half of 3.6 m/ha under cotton in 1979- 81), and
Mexico (planting less than 9% of its planting in that
However, the environmental forces and political will were
unable to show similar downward trend in Pakistan, Paraguay
and Iran. In contrast the area under cotton was increased to
27 %, 54 % and 25 % respectively in these countries.
The yield rose in the same period more significantly in
China (40%), India (74 %) and Pakistan (46%). On a regional
basis the changes in cotton production may be described as
falling in Latin America, and increasing in Africa
(excluding Sudan and Egypt) and Asia.
The resistance of environmental forces in the expansion of
uncontrolled cotton production had been viably supported by
several recorded incidences hazardous to animal and human
lives. The standing faces of human health, water, air and
land bear a history of torment.
Consumption of higher quantity of insecticide, in the
absence of appropriate application technology, on cotton
crop is known. Only 2.4 % of arable land (land where crops
could be grown) in the world was used for growing cotton.
However 24 % of the insecticide sold on the world market in
1994 was used on cotton crop. In developing countries, work-
related injuries in agriculture are as many as 14 % caused
by pesticides, and 10 % injuries ended in death.
Cotton pesticides include organophosphates agents originally
developed as toxic nerve agents during World War II. Until
more recently in 1990's the organophosphate group, hazardous
to workers health, occupies a major part in insecticide
In recent years pyrethroids had taken the major share 42 %-
43 % of the market in 1994, overtaking the 40 % share of
organophosphates. Some other important insecticides are
deltamethrin, monocroptophos, lambda- cyhalothrin, alpha-
cypermethrin, chlorpyriphos- ethyl etc.
Most pesticides used on cotton harm people, wild life and
environment. They can poison workers, pass to neighbouring
community, contaminate ground and surface water, kill useful
insects and micro- organism. Inappropriate spraying
machinery and method may result in 50 % dispersion or waste
of pesticides creating an alarming hazardous exposure to
workers and environment.
There is a hilarious history of environmental hazards linked
with the use of insecticides in cotton crop. Pesticides used
in cotton crop was ranked 3rd among California crops for
total number of worker illness. In 1995, pesticide-
contaminated runoff from cotton field killed at least 240,
000 fish in Alabama. It was the result of washed- off by the
heavy rain on pesticide (endosulfan and methyl parathion) -
containing cotton field. The Alabama Department of
Agriculture and Industries indicated the pesticides were not
applied in an illegal manner.
A breeding colony of laughing gulls near Corpus Christi,
Texas was hammered by the application of methyl parathion in
a cotton field located three miles away. More than 100 dead
adults were found, and 25 % population of colony's chicks
Uzbekistan, a major cotton producer, had set hysterical
example in showing the undesired effects of cotton
production using substandard practices. Deadly price was
paid for cotton production. Heavy consumption of pesticides
and poor irrigation practices turned the fields barren-
contaminated with salt and pesticides.
Drinking water pollution, childhood illness including blood
diseases and birth defects were observed. Pesticide residue
in women breast milk, known since 1975, was noted in
increasing number of cases. An area of 60 % (around 11, 000
square miles) of Aral Sea once under water became dry and
Human and animal health hazards are not the only risks
associated with pesticide application, secondary pest
outbreaks, ecosystem imbalance and crop failure are some
other side effects.
The experience of undesired effects from the application of
pesticides in cotton field had been a global reality. In
1994, Australian beef was found HelixR (chlorfluazuron)-
contaminated. It was most likely the result of cattle
feeding of contaminated- cotton straw. More importantly, one
year later it was discovered that new-born calves were
contaminated with HelixR.
A valid concern raised in cotton production was the level of
profitability. In many places, the lack of precise input
data on materials, energy, labour, and chemical cost, and
the cost of losses incurred on animal health, damage to
ecosystem, land, water, air etc, does not allow a real
determination of profitability in cotton production.
Certainly, such determination will vary from field to field,
and from country to country. However, this will be helpful
to ascertain if the crop expansion is really profitable.
An interesting case example could be seen in a study
conducted by UN that estimated the social and environmental
cost of insecticide used in Nicaragua during the cotton boom
was $200 million per year, compared to $141 million in
cotton income at the peak of cotton boom in Nicaragua.
It indicates that profitability is not appropriately
justified in the expansion of cotton production when a
detailed comparison on input cost, losses and income is
missing. Any major cotton producing developing country needs
to realise the cost of losses and production when thinking
to retain or expand cotton production. Moreover, it demands
to be highly scientific, practical, and detailed- oriented
in approaching the expansion plan to increase the number of
million of cotton bales.
A developing country standing as the major cotton producers
has several challenges including under- trained farm
workers, reduced control on toxic pesticide application,
poor spraying machinery etc. Poor spraying application may
waste around 50 % of applied pesticide in the surrounding
Cotton is the top crop consuming around 85 % of applied
pesticides. A large number of women work in cotton farm. It
was noted for a total of 90 female cotton pickers; only one
could be out of danger when not appropriately protected.
In the cotton producing district of Multan, 578 poisoned
patients studied, 370 were victims of pesticides. These
include 73 % males, and 27 % females. The occupational and
accidental incidences were 23 % and 24 % respectively.
Poor spraying of pesticide bears hazards to workers and
neighbouring community. The pesticide could be dispersed in
air and eventually reaches living bodies. Manual working in
handling and opening the containers, filling and packaging
of bottles etc, undoubtedly carry more hazards particularly
when protective clothing, gloves, masks etc are missing.
Bringing the pesticide usage to zero in cotton production
level is still an on-going process even in developed parts
of world; however an area where achievements have been made
is the reduction of potential and latent risks. Research
studies, use of appropriate technology, trained workers,
standard practices and enforcement of public rules in
preventing the hazardous chemicals and applications- all
have provided significant control.
When an appropriate program is exercised using these
elements, the pesticide application may reach an acceptable
limit in the level of associated hazards.
The US Department of Agriculture indicated that
approximately 1.2 pounds of insecticides and 2.1 pounds of
herbicides are applied to each acre of cotton. Each acre
produces 800 pounds of cotton, that apparently means around
0.09 ounces of total pesticides per pound of cotton are
applied in US.
The developed technology used reduces the number of
pesticide applications. Incentives are given to farmers to
use fewer chemicals. Moreover, cotton is regulated as food
crop by the Food and Drug Administration in USA. This
indicates that cotton is grown like other major food crop.
The development had also been made in the consumption of
water, and US farmers use 45 % less water to grow a pound of
cotton relative to the amount used 25 years ago.
A more recent idea to overcome the pesticide hazards and
water shortage in cotton crop is to explore insect-
resistant and drought resistant varieties. Yield enhancement
and conservation of tillage practices (less plowing of soil)
result in reduced erosion and runoff.
However, the situation of US cotton crop in terms of hazard
prevention to environment and animal lives would not have a
direct comparison with a developing country where the
standard practices at several stages of cotton production
are significantly cynical to standard norms.
In a developing country where value- chain of cotton had
evolved over the past several years, the concept of higher
value- addition (smart textile) bears valid attraction for
future exploration in terms of enhancing the export earning
and strengthening the economy.
The idea of producing limited bales of cotton with higher
value- addition may generate more revenue than an increased
number of bales of cotton having reduced value, and more
importantly at the cost of risks to environment and human
lives. Inviting hazards to workers, community and
environment or stepping in advanced value- addition research
and industrial production we need to prefer one for the next
Courtesy: Business Recorder