Improving cotton yield

By Bilal Hassan

COTTON is an important cash crop and lifeline of textile industry. It accounts for 8.2 per cent of the value-added in the agriculture sector and about two per cent to GDP, adds over $2.8 billion to the national economy.

Millions of farmers are directly associated with cultivation and harvesting of cotton crop and sale of lint. Many others are indirectly linked with cotton value chain. Thus, livelihood of millions of farmers and of those employed along the entire cotton value chain is dependent on this single crop.

The government has an ambitious plan to expand textile industry by the year 2008. This will make room for incremental three million bales. To meet that demand, the country needs to boost its cotton production. According to an estimate increasing one million bales in cotton production means half a per cent increase into GDP. That is the reason why it is called silver fibre.

During the last many years, cultivated area of cotton has been on increase. In the fiscal year 2005-06, cotton was cultivated over 7.65 million acres compared to 7.25 million acres in 2002-03. But the desired target of cotton production remained a distant dream as it was largely below target. Pakistan is the world’s fourth largest cotton producer and a leading exporter of yarn. It is, therefore, stringent efforts are required in many areas to improve cotton production to meet not only the export demand but also domestic requirements.

Presently cotton crop is facing a number of constraints, including low per acre yield that ranks Pakistan 10th in the world; high price of agriculture inputs (seeds, fertilisers, pesticides etc); higher intensity of insects and pests attack; shortage of good quality, high-yielding, insect and pests resistant varieties of seeds; 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. The yield remains low because unfavourable weather conditions at the time of sowing affect germination causing re-sowing of crop, increase incidence of pest attack in the early 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.

All of this have added unbearable burden on cotton growers. Additionally, there is no proper crop insurance system in the country. The absence of a proper cotton crop insurance system or any support system in the shape of subsidies by the government is resulting in frustration and lack of motivation in cotton growers to spend resource in their fields in order to improve cotton yields.

There is reduction of 13 per cent in cotton production in accordance with 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, Pakistan annually has to import 1.5-2 million bales to meet expanding demand of local textile mills. Moreover, the country has been losing some 10-15 per cent of value of its cotton due to poor quality. Improper picking methods, adulteration of cotton with water and other material, missed grades and seed varieties and improper packing, storage and transportation means are responsible for poor quality of cotton. Loss is amounting to $350 million per annum.

In this context, it is essential to ponder over the means and ways to improve cotton production in the country. The government is well aware of the overwhelming significance of cotton as lifeline of economy. It is looking for different options to visualise Cotton Vision 2015 of 20.70 million bales production. This is only possible making constant efforts in the field of research and for increasing the lint yield per acre by adopting modern production techniques.

Increase in cotton production could be achieved either by enhancing area under cotton crop or per care lint yield or both. But the option to increase area under cotton cultivation cannot be exercise because of lack of supply of irrigation water and the two major cotton growing provinces of Punjab and Sindh are already at their maximum level. Cotton crop faces competition from other crops as well that is also a constraint in bringing more area under this crop. However, possibility is there to increase cultivation of cotton in different district of Balochistan like Sibi, Nasirabad and Kalat divisions and NWFP districts like D. I. Khan. However, main obstacle is the shortage of water beside lack of agro infrastructure and geopolitical uncertainty in these areas.

Only option is to increase per acre lint yield by applying modern cotton technologies that have successfully been adopted in many developed and developing countries to improve crop yields.

Cotton crop is well exposed to biotic pressure. The greatest threat is from insect and pests. There are two major types of pests that are damaging cotton crops in Pakistan. These are sucking and chewing because weather conditions agro-ecological zones are suitable for multiplicity of population to some extent but is very challenging to control chewing pests that are injurious to growth, development and production of crop. Important chewing pests include American bollworms, Army, Pink and Spotted.

Destruction of cotton crop 1992 in the wake of devastating attack of Cotton Leaf Curl Virus (CLCV) and record reduction of lint production in the country and threatened the national economy. Vector of that virus is white fly, a sucking insect. A wide array of pesticides was introduced to control crop insects/pests but owing to excessive use of chemicals, pests have developed resistant against these chemicals. Pests control is no more effective because of adulteration of pesticides, faulty spraying equipments and untrained labour. Different cotton cultivars resistant to sucking pests have been introduced. Today, 8.2 million farmers in 17 countries of whom 90 per cent belong to the developing countries choose to plant biotech crops. The use of biotech crops has significantly reduced pesticide usage while increasing yields.

Many Asian countries including China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan and Vietnam are giving high priority to plant biotechnology research in the hope of addressing the pressing challenges related to improving productivity, farmers livelihoods, driving rural development, and meeting food security demands. Many of these countries focus their biotechnology research on food crops and non food crops and crops of high commercial value in the hope of meeting increasing food requirements and reducing use of pesticides and poverty alleviation in rural area.

Bt cotton introduced in 1996 has immense potential to improve cotton productivity. It is an important tool to control chewing pests. Need is to commercialise it. It is the responsibility of research institutes to come up with high yielding production technology and proper recommendations of inputs. At the same time, extension department should play its role in dissemination of Bt seed and growing technology.