Pakistan’s cotton output falls to historic lows

Staff Reporter

The arrival of seed-cotton into ginneries witnessed a massive decline of 35 percent to 5.57 million bales by January 31, 2021, its lowest level in Pakistan’s history during over two decades.

Given the situation, this year’s cotton imports may touch the highest levels in the last couple of decades, putting an extra burden on current account position. The cotton production was recorded at 8.487 million bales in the same period last year.
Of the total production, textile mills bought 5.046 million bales while 70,200 bales were picked up by exporters. Currently, only 90 ginning mills have been functioning in the country.

Cotton outputs in the country have plunged to 21-year lows mainly due to poor seeds and lack of technology and innovations, threatening the livelihoods of growers and textile sector’s viability.

The country harvested 8.5 million bales of cotton in 2020/21, according to latest official statistics. The estimate is less than even what it produced way back in 1990-91. The least production on record if compared with the expected output was registered in 1998/99 when the country picked 8.7 million bales.

The ministry of food security attributed the low cotton estimates to poor seed quality, absence of new seed technology, heat waves and climate change, cotton leaf curl virus, pink bollworm and white fly.

Another factor that contributed to the low yield is an increase in the sugarcane production area, wiping a vast area of the cotton belt. Not surprisingly, sugarcane is seen as a better substitute on the back of climate change and less manpower requirement in the fields.
The ministry, however, believed that the cotton sector will improve in coming years as effective measures are being taken.

The latest production estimate of less than nine million bales will awfully fall short of an estimated 16 million bales needed for domestic consumption. Despite the fact that the local textile industry consumes around 16 million bales, domestic cotton productivity never exceeded 14 million bales or so.

Pakistan is among the top five largest producers of cotton in the world. About 1.3 million farmers cultivate cotton in the country. Cotton and cotton products account for nearly half of the foreign exchange earnings of the country. Cotton production supports Pakistan’s largest industrial sector textile, comprising a chain of mills, spinning factories, power looms, knitwear and garment units, ginners and oil extractors.

Earlier on January 27, Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Syed Fakhar Imam termed the year 2021 as a make or break year for cotton in the country. The food minister said this while chairing a meeting, which discussed ways and means to enhance cotton production in the country.

Imam said that cotton is an important crop and seven percent of the edible oil in Pakistan is produced by cotton. During the meeting it was suggested that the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering is necessary using international support. It was further emphasised that the revival of cotton cannot be done without research. Problems such as competency of staff, funds, and yields were discussed. Issues of pests and pesticides were also highlighted while keeping the farmers cost of production and sale in consideration.

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