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Policy risks to cotton crop              
By Ahmad Fraz Khan 

May 9, 2011: THE second, and indefinite, postponement of the meeting of Federal Committee on Agriculture in the last week of April leaves many bewildered, especially when it comes to the planning for cotton crop.

The Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA), the high-powered body on agriculture, reviews each season — Rabi and Kharif — at its end and holds provinces accountable for slackness, if any. In its meeting, that got indefinitely postponed, it was supposed to review wheat, gram, sunflower, rapeseed and lintels of Rabi, and set acreage and production targets for Kharif crops, especially cotton and rice.

Both these crops, with other minor ones, need massive national planning, acreage and sowing targets, assessment of pesticides and fertiliser inventories and ordering their imports, assessing need for credit and water and arranging and ensuring them.

In its absence, the growers are groping in the dark a€“ especially for cotton, which is under cultivation, albeit at a slow pace.

If the FCA-proposed sowing target, which was to be firmed up by the meeting, is something to go by, Sindh, out of 1.8 million acres, has touched around 350,000 acres a€“ around 20 per cent a€“ and Punjab has not gone beyond 13 per cent of 6.17 million acres target.

Apart from weather factor delaying wheat harvesting in Punjab, uncertainty about crop a€“ national and provincial targets, availability of inputs, bank credits and most crucially water bedeviling cotton, should be held responsible. Both Sindh and Punjab are on their own, totally ignorant about the national current and future crop picture.
 

 


This is despite the fact that the last two years brought lot of cotton dividends for farmers. Its price, on average, went up from Rs2,600 per maund in 2008-09 to Rs3,000 in 2009-10 to Rs4,600 per maund a€“ a massive 56 per cent increase in two years a€“ this year.

The federal government, especially the ministry of agriculture and food, needs to take note of the situation….and do so urgently. The cotton crop is too important to be ignored as it is literally bread and butter of Pakistan. It needs immediate attention of the federal government and the Minfa.

The crop is already suffering from some backbreaking problems, like doubt about the BT seeds performance, the leave curl virus and ever-reducing per acre yield. It hardly needs additional uncertainty that the FCA is imposing on it.

This year, by all estimates, the different BT seeds may cover eight to 8.5 million acres. The crop had been swarmed by 33 BT varieties of unknown parentage till two years ago when the government moved in and approved eight of them. Though, the gene of new varieties also had question marks on them, they were at least made part of a process and came under some kind of monitoring.

Out of the eight, five varieties were given one-year deadline as they had conflicting lab reports about them, which were approved next year. It was a new experiment for all stakeholders a€“ government, farmers, industry and companies a€“ involved in the cotton business, which calls for mechanisms to record seed performance at every stage of development and brings certainty to cotton market. This year, all these varieties must be followed through and their yield and results documented to create reliability about them.

This is essential because the future of the crop depends on the quality of seed. It is also necessary because of massive involvement of money. “It is business that runs into billion of rupees and is so lucrative that most of government officials are now part of the seed mafia instead of checking them,” says Ibrahim Mughal of Agri Forum Pakistan.

Another problem that exerts speculative pressures on yield, and consequently price, every year is uncertainty about crop size. No one knows for sure how much is going to be produced from a certain number of acres. It is largely because of declining per acre yield, which sometimes bounces back, but return to sustained declining trend.
 

 

 


In the near past, the country produced 14.7 million bales, which have now come down to 12 million bales, despite so-called BT advantage. Per acre yield has dropped from 26 maunds to 17.2 maunds. Apart from the leave curl virus that costs around one million bales a year, farmers also say that soil quality is deteriorating in the core cotton area.

The soil has developed a hard-pan some 10 to 12 inches below the surface, which is blocking pesticides penetration and increasing soil PH. The government agencies need to work with the farmers to break this hard-pan by deep sowing to ensure better crop.

Ever-increasing input prices, especially those of fertilisers, are a problem. The Urea prices have almost doubled in last two years, and no one can predict DAP prices because it is imported. The cost of production is thus always a question mark for the farmers, and so are international prices. The government should also move to bring some sanity in fertiliser prices so that farmers` terms of trade don`t get skewed.
 

Courtesy: The DAWN

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