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    Sunday, 25 March 2018

    Govt agrees to stop cotton imports during crop picking

    The government has agreed to put a halt to cotton imports during crop harvest in an effort to ensure farmers get an attractive price and are encouraged to plant more in the next season as cotton production has dropped sharply over the past four years.


    Earlier, on the persistent demand from textile millers, the current government allowed duty-free import of cotton, but that hurt the interest of Pakistan’s growers and benefitted Indian farmers who have been exporting a significant quantity of cotton in times of need.
    Pakistani farmers have suffered as the government has focused more on framing industry-friendly policies over its tenure since June 2013.
    According to a report submitted to the cabinet by a special committee, cotton production has faced virtual stagnation since 1991-92 fluctuating in the range of 10 to 12 million bales. In 2015-16, the output even dropped below 10 million bales, standing at 9.9 million.
    Pakistan’s annual consumption needs are estimated at 15 million bales, turning the country into a net importer of cotton.
    The committee, headed by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz, was constituted by the cabinet in order to examine the challenges faced by the cotton farmers.
    It recommended that cotton import should not be allowed during crop picking. It suggested that cotton seed supply industry should be regulated by rationalising over 700 such companies.
    The seed act and plant breeders’ rights act may be implemented properly and extension services may be improved through promoting better crop husbandry and employing information technology-based solutions, it said.
    The committee suggested that cotton cultivation may be expanded in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan – the two provinces that have a very insignificant contribution to the overall cotton production.
    It also focused on improving spinning and ginning processes by adopting better technology, shifting the current weight-based pricing system to the one based on quality and cotton labeling by ginners to show quality features.
    The committee proposed that partnerships may be initiated for a variety of development and marketing activities and the capacity of National Biosafety Committee and the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department should be built as regulators.
    It also outlined different causes for the stagnant production which included the use of inappropriate first generation rather than fourth generation Bt technology, absence of better quality seeds, lack of solution to the cotton leaf curl virus, low-quality ginning process and heavy contamination in cotton.
    Owing to these reasons, the income of farmers had gone down and plantation area shrank 20% between 2004 and 2016.
    It recommended that the target for cotton production should be set at 25 million bales by 2025 by increasing the plantation area from 2.4 to 3.5 million hectares, up 45%, and the yield up to 1,200 kg per hectare.
    It suggested that research funds may be provided for a restructured Pakistan Central Cotton Committee.
    It proposed a Rs2.5-billion cotton research fund for a period of five years through competitive grants managed by the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (Parc) under an inter-provincial committee.
    The cabinet, in a meeting held in the first week of March, approved all the recommendations of the committee.
    The current government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has not proved beneficial for cotton farmers as the commodity’s production has recorded a drastic fall because of what many say the ruling party’s primary focus on pro-industry policies, says a report.


    Though the government has provided incentives for powerful industrial lobbies like textile manufacturers who have been allowed duty-free import of cotton, it has paid little attention to shielding the interest of local farmers.
    A committee constituted by the cabinet has pointed to poor management by different governments over the past two and a half decades. During the tenure of the current government, cotton harvests have dropped significantly.
    A report presented to the cabinet by the committee revealed that cotton production faced virtual stagnation since 1991-92 and fluctuated in a range of 10 to 12 million bales over the period.
    The output fell to 9.9 million bales in 2015-16 during the PML-N tenure compared to average consumption of 15 million bales, making Pakistan a net importer of cotton.
    The committee listed different causes of the stagnation in cotton harvest which included the use of old first generation rather than fourth generation Bt technology, absence of better quality seeds, lack of solution to the Cotton Leaf Curl Virus (CLCV) problem, low processing quality at ginning factories and high contamination levels in the produce.
    These reasons brought down the profit for cotton farmers and slashed by 20% the area planted with the crop from 2004 to 2016.
    The committee, headed by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz, was tasked with examining the proposal of transferring control of Pakistan Central Cotton Committee from the Textile Division to the National Food Security and Research Division.
    The committee had also been asked to analyse the causes behind the virtual stagnation in cotton production over the past two decades and suggest institutional measures for achieving a steady growth in cotton yield and output.
    Before preparing the report, committee members held a series of consultative sessions with representatives of both the textile and food security divisions, representatives of Sindh and Punjab provinces, academia and industry associations.
    The committee recommended that cotton production target should be set at 25 million bales by 2025, planted area be increased 45% from 2.4 to 3.5 million hectares and crop yield be taken to 1,200 kg per hectare.
    It proposed that research funds may be provided for a restructured central cotton committee in a bid to support the overall textile industry.
    It called for providing Rs2.5 billion in cotton research fund over five years through competitive grants managed by the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (Parc) under the supervision of an inter-provincial committee.
    It recommended building capacity of the National Biosafety Committee and the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department as regulators.
    It was suggested that administrative control of the Pakistan Central Research Committee should be handed over to the National Food Security and Research Division in order to strengthen public-private partnership in cotton research through increased funding from the public sector and more pro-cotton policies.
    The cabinet gave approval to the research committee’s handover to the food security division from the textile ministry.
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