Due to a significant rise in input costs, farmers in Punjab have started abandoning cotton; opting, instead, for less input-intensive crops like sunflowers and maize.
Total area on which cotton is sowed in Punjab has declined. Trends show that in southern Punjab, many farmers are moving towards sunflower while in central Punjab, they are opting for maize and vegetables.
“It is mostly the small farmers who are converting to alternative crops, because they cannot bear the heavy losses,” said Rao Babar Ali, a landlord from southern Punjab, while taking to The Express Tribune.
Ali pointed out that hectares of land in the cotton districts of southern Punjab are now being used for the cultivation of sunflower.
“Those opting to switch mostly suffer from diminishing availability of water, increasing cost of alternate fuels used for water pumps, and high costs of agriculture inputs,” said Ali. Diesel has become unaffordable for small landowners due to higher prices; creating problems in running tube-wells and transporting seeds and crops from one place to another.
Ali added that cotton requires more pesticides as compared to the other crops, and rising prices of pesticides have raised the cost of production for farmers. Furthermore, “The prices of cotton in the market did not help recover their cost of production,” he added.
“Severe water shortage in the late Rabi and early Kharif season, and better prices for alternative crops are other factors in the minds of farmers while choosing another crop,” he added.
Ali Abid, a farmer in central Punjab, told The Express Tribune that it is not easy for farmers to switch crops. There are multiple factors and difficulties, he said; for example, labourers are trained in cultivating one particular crop and finding trained labour, or training them for a new crop is a difficult. “But the farmers are forced to choose alternatives due to the lower price of cotton this year,” he claims.
In central Punjab, maize has replaced cotton on large tracts of land. Maize is a particularly lucrative crop, since both edible oil and poultry feed industries are trying to attract farmers with strong financial incentives.
“The decisive factor is the cost of production, which is skyrocketing. The increasing cost of fertiliser has taken away the farmers’ profitability,” Ali notes.
Tanveer Ahmad – an agriculturalist – said that if the cotton cultivation area falls, local industry may suffer greatly.
“The concerned administrative departments need to realise that market realities are changing in these areas. This is alarming from the perspective of the growth of industry. It could lead to cotton shortages during the next year,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.