Pakistan is the 4th largest producer of and 3rd largest consumer/producer of cotton yarn in the world. About 1.3 million farmers (out of 5 million) cultivate cotton on an area of 6.5 million acre, covering 15% of the cultivated Punjab area in the country.
Cotton contribution was 9% of the GDP in 2004 and it dropped to 0.8% in 2018. Cotton earned 61.5 of the foreign exchange for the country in the year 2006 and it have fallen to 51% in 2018.
Cotton is one of the major crops of the Punjab. The current crises in cotton production in Punjab is the result of various biotic and abiotic stresses/factors leading to decline in cotton production and ultimately low profitability of this crop. A summary of these stresses/ factors is following.
Cotton farmers in Pakistan are less paid than those of the world. Cotton price in 2019 is high than that of 2018, 2017 & 2016, but it is low as compared with its cost of production due to the hike in input cost. The cotton prices in Pakistan has been about 10% lower than that of international prices.
During this year lint price in Pakistan remained high (Rs. 9350 rupees per 40kg till July) compared with that of 2018 (Rs. 8355 per 40 kg). Due to the increase in the cost of production, stagnant yield and less net profitability of cotton, farmers are shifting to rice and maize crops.
The High infestation of insect pests is a big challenge for successful cotton production in Punjab which results in 1-2 million bales losses in production in 2018. These losses are not being prevented despite as over 80% pesticides used on the cotton crop by farmers. Major insect pests emerged in Punjab in 2019 are
Whitefly infestation increased significantly at the early stage of the crop, i.e. from 1st week of July. Several whitefly hotspots were observed in Multan, Bahawalpur, D.G.Khan, Lodhran, Layyah, Okara, Faisalabad, Vehari, Sahiwal, and Multan. This pest is on a higher level from last three years and developing resistance against insecticides.
(II)Pink Boll Worm
Pink bollworm emerged as a major pest at a later stage of crop growth, i.e. from 1st week of August with comparatively more hotspots as compared to the previous year. The pest is developing resistance and reducing per acre yield and overall cotton productivity of Punjab.
Climate Change and Temperature
Climate change is a chief factor affecting cotton crop across the world. The main abiotic factors which affected cotton production during 2018-19 appeared as water shortage due to low rainfall and high temperature.
The high temperature at critical stages during June to September reduced the yield due to flower shedding and less boll setting. In addition, high temperature coupled with high humidity boosted whitefly population which is a major cause of yield reduction in 2019.
In Punjab, about 33% of water shortage was observed during crop season 2018-19. This is due to low rainfall. The consequences of low rainfall include: (1) High temperature, (2) Reduced plant growth and (3) Increase in Ph. All these factors had an adverse effect on cotton crop and resulted in low per acre yield and production of crop in Punjab.
Cotton Leaf Curl Virus (CLCuV) is another impediment causing a colossal loss of 2 to 4 million bales per annum. This disease is specific to Pakistan especially in Punjab, and no research on this disease is being conducted elsewhere in the world.
In a project with USDA, about 5000 accessions were imported and screened at different locations in Pakistan i.e. Faisalabad, Sahiwal, Vehari and Multan but no completely CLCV resistant line was found and the problem is yet unresolved.
Weed infestation is another cause behind the low productivity in Punjab. The research conducted at CRI, Multan revealed up to 40% losses in yield due to weeds infestation. Weed compete with the crop for nutrients, provide shelter for whitefly and other insect pests and become alternate host plants for CLCV especially in Multan and Vehari.
Lack of awareness about Production Technology
The progressive grower having knowledge about production technology are harvesting more yield and on the other hand, the growers with poor knowledge are unable to harvest good yield resulting in low yield and less productivity against the production target. Low literacy rate is the main reason on a acquiring complete knowledge about production technology of cotton in the country.
Obsolete GM Technology
About 95% cotton grown in Punjab is now genetically modified Bt.cotton (Bollgard-I), which has lost its effectiveness against cotton bollworms and this technology has become obsolete in the world.
Top cotton-producing countries like USA, Australia, China, and India have switched to either Bollgard-II or Bollgard-III technology. Consequently, the available germplasm and commercial cultivars have become highly susceptible to bollworms particularly Pink bollworm.
According to the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department, the availability of certified seed has increased up to 90% in 2019 due to strict enforcement of seed act by the Agri. Department, Punjab. Yet, the involvement of the informal seed sector (farmer to farmer) is still a main limiting factor in the provision of quality seeds to the farmers.
Plant population is another factor towards low yield per acre. The plant population in 2019 remained 16000 which is less than that of the recommended plant population of 17500. By maximizing plant population from 16000 to 17500, keeping all other production factors constant, we can add 0.8 million bales to of our national cotton production.
In the absence of genetically modified cotton cultivars, resistant to an insect pest, the cotton grower is dependent on using chemicals/sprays for control of insect pests. Enhancing No. of sprays results in the high cost of production. The quality of pesticides is not up to the standards.
Most of the farmers have less than 5 acres and they have deficient resources for better management of crop because of economic constraints. They mostly rely on dealers for input supply on credit base and hence, the operations needed for better crop management are not performed in time, the yield is reduced.
Unavailability of labor at the time of picking has emerged as a serious threat for quality cotton and seed production due to urbanization. There is dire need to adopt mechanized farming and develop verities which are best suited for mechanical picking.