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Cotton sowing in doldrums 
By Muhammad Ahmad and M Fakharddein Razi

COTTON sowing in southern Punjab is facing multiple problems and is still stuck to around eight per cent mark even in mid-May. The ideal sowing time, which is May for the core cotton areas, is running out but the farmers still no water to plant the crop.

Non-perennial canals mainly feeding the core cotton areas started running on May 5 instead of April 15, causing a loss of 20 crucial days. Another reason is the late harvesting of wheat and bumper sugarcane crop still occupying the land and preventing farmers from sowing cotton.

Due to drought-like situation in absence of monsoon rains and shortage of water in irrigation canals last year, agricultural produce had suffered badly in Sindh. An acute water shortage has hit cotton sowing on 200,000 acres with Nawabshah growers facing heavy financial losses. Dadu and Nusrat irrigation divisions are in water rotation schedules for last couple of months. Water still had not arrived in the entire area and canals were running at much lower than the required level.

The other option was of tube-wells, but the rural areas were having a 10-hour daily load shedding on an average that made it impossible for them to pump water. Growers of four talukas from district Sanghar (Sindh) are facing the onslaught as standing sugarcane, banana, and vegetable crops are not being supplied with water. Growers have held several demonstrations demanding irrigation minister and concerned officials to ensure regular water supply, but in vain.

The Meteorological Department has warned of a possible drought in the country with no signs of any significant rainfall over the next two months and water levels in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs dropping to critical levels. The drought, feared to hit Sindh and Balochistan first, will have a serious impact on efforts to achieve this yearís cotton sowing target and affect livestock, horticulture and human lives throughout the country.

Reports coming from major cotton-growing areas of Southern Punjab indicate that sowing is well in progress and in some areas it has been completed with the help of tube-wells, despite shortage of irrigation water in the canal system. The government has been urged to encourage ridge sowing in cotton areas to combat water crisis looming large for the coming kharif season.

The government should also allow cultivation of BT cotton so that the production could be increased and per acre yield could be maximised. In addition to this, less expenditure on pesticide would definitely reduce the cost of production. Because of late announcement of the procurement price mostly at the time of harvesting, farmers are confused and are unable to decide which crop to grow (cotton or rice). Drought has compelled them to abandon rice, despite high prices of the crop.

The government should not repeat the mistake of announcing procurement price of crops late like that of wheat, which created a crisis. Pakistan is the only country which charges sales tax on fertiliser and pesticides. It should be removed in the interest of farmers. Recently, cotton price have been increased by Rs50 per maund, but farmers are not sure whether they would get this benefit.

During the last many years, area under cotton cultivation has been on increase. In the fiscal 2005-06, cotton was grown over 7.65 million acres compared to 7.25 million acres in 2002-03. But the desired target of cotton production remained an elusive dream.

There has been a reduction of 13 per cent in cotton production according to Economic Survey 2005-06. Cotton crop harvest for 2005-06 was 12.4 million bales as against 14.3 million bales last year. Whereas the area under cotton crop since last two decades has been on an average between 7.12 and 7.42 millions acres. Because of low cotton production, 1.5-2 million bales were imported annually to meet the expanding demand of local textile mills.

The country has also been losing some 10-15 per cent of value of its cotton due to poor quality. Improper picking, adulteration of cotton, missed grades and seed varieties and improper packing, storage and means of transportation are responsible for the poor quality of the fibre. And the loss due to these factors amounts to $350 million per annum.

In this context, it is essential to ponder over the means and ways to improve cotton production. Stringent efforts are needed in many areas to increase itís per acre yield not only to meet the domestic requirements but also fulfill the export demand.

Increase in cotton production could be achieved either by enhancing area under cotton crop or increasing per acre lint yield or both. There is also a need for making constant research for evolving better-yield varieties by adopting modern techniques. The option of increasing area under cultivation cannot be exercised because of lack of irrigation water and the two major cotton growing provinces, Punjab and Sindh, are already at their maximum level.

Cotton faces competition from other crops as well which is also a constraint in bringing more area under this crop. However, there is a possibility of more areas under cotton cultivation in various districts of Balochistan like Sibi, Nasirabad and Kalat divisions and in NWFP like D. I. Khan. However, the main obstacle is the shortage of water beside lack of agro-infrastructure and law and order in these areas.

The only option left to increase per acre yield is by applying modern technology. Presently, cotton crop is facing a number of constraints, including low per acre yield: high price of agriculture inputs (seeds, fertilisers, pesticides etc); higher intensity of insects and pests attack; shortage of good quality, high-yielding and insect pest-resistant seed varieties; deficiency of irrigation water; lack of advance technologies; lack of awareness and agro-professionalism and adulterations in pesticides, fertilisers and seeds.

Above all, natural factors like unexpected rain, drought, and floods especially in southern Punjab and Sindh are obstacles to better yield. The yield also remains low as unfavorable weather conditions at the time of sowing affect germination, increase incidence of pest attack in the growth of the crop as well as at the time of flowering and boll formation, decrease in the number of bolls and weight and higher weed intensity.


Courtesy: The DAWN
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