FAISALABAD: One of the country’s key crops – cotton – is in trouble, according to Australian expert Dr Neil William Forrester, who said inadequate seed provision and spread of diseases, especially cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV), were causing a loss of 10 to 15 million bales worth $4 billion every year.
Speaking at a special lecture on cotton crisis in Pakistan at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), he said cotton production in Punjab dropped 44% and in Sindh it fell 5%. Overall, output in Pakistan has gone down 34%.
He pointed out that Pakistan had imported 2.2 million bales worth $434 million from July to December due to the production shortfall, adding the cotton-producing districts of southern Punjab and northern Sindh were among the poorest in Pakistan.
According to Forrester, modern seeds can raise cotton output from 10 million to 15 million bales per year. This can bring $3.1-4.6 billion into pockets of the country’s 1.7 million cotton farmers.
Cotton-breeding in Pakistan largely did not existent, he said and underlined the need for a strong government regulatory framework for the seed industry.
“It is also important to establish a professional cotton seed company that can breed new varieties and produce pure seeds with high germination.”
Talking about the threat posed by weeds in the fields, he said these were causing a loss of one million bales every year and added manual weeding required a large labour input that could be better utilised elsewhere. Broadleaf weeds are a reservoir for white flies and CLCV.
The expert called for introducing transgenic herbicide-resistant cotton varieties and a strong, functioning biotechnology regulatory authority.
Speaking on the occasion, former National Assembly speaker Syed Fakhar Imam said the agricultural research budget in the country was negligible that must be enhanced to support researchers, which would help strengthen the sector.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2016.