Producing cotton sustainably
Syed Muhammad Abubakar
are being introduced to reduce high carbon footprint of
cotton which is a threat to the environment.
Pakistan, the fifth largest global cotton grower and
third largest exporter of raw cotton, is among the major
growers of cotton in the world.
Today, Pakistan is one of the largest exporters of cotton
yarn and fourth largest consumer of cotton, which makes this
crop significant for Pakistan’s economy.
The textile industry of Pakistan comprises over 400
textile mills and 1,200 ginning units and accounts for 40
per cent of Pakistan’s total labour force and nearly 60 per
cent of its exports.
However, with the passage of time, this sector has faced
multiple problems due to energy shortfall, inflation and
high-cost of production.
On the other end, environmental experts regard high carbon
footprint of cotton a significant threat to the environment,
as it’s a water intensive crop.
Additionally, high-energy consumption and inefficient
production processes are not only increasing the cost of
manufacturing but also increasing emissions in the
The situation is also proving to be hazardous for labourers
working in the sector.
Efforts are being made to find solutions. In order to deal
with such impacts, Sustainable Agriculture Programme of WWF-Pakistan,
for instance, is working to help farmers produce cotton in a
sustainable way through projects, including Sustainable
Cotton Production in Pakistan’s Cotton Ginning Small and
Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Pakistan Sustainable Cotton
Initiative (PSCI) and Better Cotton Fast Track Fund (BCFTF).
These are to be implemented in nine regions across Pakistan
from Sukkur to Jhang, with more than 80,000 cotton farmers
The “better cotton” produce
is unique as it has lower environmental and socio-economic
impacts than regular cotton. It saves 37.5 per cent
irrigated water and 40 per cent chemical fertiliser in
better management practices, thus benefitting farmers.
Ginners are also encouraged to adopt efficient and
sustainable ginning practices pertaining to processes and
mechanical efficiency, so that they can also conserve energy
and improve efficiency.
Workers should have the right
set of skills to work with ginning SMEs; establish linkages
between “better cotton” farmers; and campaign to increase
demand of “better cotton” to promote sustainability.
On the other end, capacity building of SMEs is also carried
out through extensive trainings and workshops to bridge
their knowledge gap.
In order to increase
collaboration among project stakeholders and partners,
quarterly meetings are organised, whereas at the national
level, a National Stakeholders Council has also been
A cotton waste management plan has also been developed and
implemented, as earlier cotton waste from ginning units was
utilised in brick kilns causing many environmental and
Therefore, rural women were
trained in mushroom cultivation on cotton waste, which
proved successful and now they are successfully growing
oyster mushrooms on the waste.
Cotton waste from ginning units is also used in making
sundried board by blending 40 per cent of the waste with 60
per cent raw paper waste.
The sustainable product
produced has proven to be more durable which is used for
book binding, packaging, etc.
workshops for women picking cotton in the field are also
organised where they are informed about better practices for
clean cotton picking, pesticides related hazards and
occupational health and safety issues.
Students of various universities are also sensitised through
a series of seminars to highlight the correlation between
sustainable consumption and production and a sustainable
In order to educate the rural population, street theatre has
helped raise awareness among ginning workers, ginners, and
the local community regarding social and environmental
issues in cotton production and processing.
Such performances have
attracted more than 7,000 members of the farming community,
gin workers and the general public.
Various stakeholders, such as the Pakistan Cotton Ginners
Association (PCGA), are working to motivate its members to
become part of project activities.
Furthermore, various MoUs had
been signed with different government organisations, such as
the Centre for Improvement in Working Conditions and
Environment (CIWCE), Small and Medium Enterprise Development
Authority (SMEDA) and Pakistan Cotton Standards Institute (PCSI)
so that research studies and technical surveys can be
Recently, a field visit for print and electronic media
journalists was organised to highlight the importance of
“better cotton” for the country and farming community.
All these efforts have
benefitted the entire chain as farmers are now producing
cotton sustainably by minimising the use of pesticides and
water; women picking cotton are now sensitised about the
harmful use of pesticides, and, thus, take necessary
precautions before they go into the field; ginners have
benefitted economically through improved efficiency and
their labour force has also benefitted through improved
working conditions and good health.
Sustainability in agriculture indicates a positive trend for
Pakistan’s economy and there’s a dire need to implement it
on national level, so that overall carbon footprint of
cotton can be reduced.
This will not just increase Pakistan’s exports manifold but
also encourage international retailers to prefer “better
Most importantly, it will
lead to a low-carbon environment, which will greatly reduce
our emissions and help to deal with serious environmental
issues of climate change and global warming.
There’s a dire need to
produce cotton sustainably so that we can protect this
precious resource and pass them on to our future
TNS The News