Policy risks to cotton crop
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
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
.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
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