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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 world.

These 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 return.

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 quantity.

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 cotton fibres.

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 incentives etc.

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 fabric.

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 price.

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 species.

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 season).

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 market.

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 was killed.

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 saline.

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 atmosphere.

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 two decades.


Courtesy: Business Recorder

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