Pakistan’s well-meaning Nostradamus’s in the opinion-making community may be its worst enemy! Like the boy who cried wolf, many quickly turn into doomsayers – paying little heed to facts, figures or reality. The reporting on losses to agricultural output during the ongoing floods in the southern part of the country present a perfect example; where leading analysts and advisors have foretold loss of as much as 90 percent of Sindh’s cotton output.
Given average production of 3.5 million bales (of 170kg) in the province over the past decade, the forecast would potentially translate into loss of at least $1.3 billion worth of fiber, even by the most conservative estimates. Yet, if figures from Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA) fortnightly data are any guide, those forecasts are not just dead wrong, but criminally irresponsible as well.
As per PCGA, the southern province has received 1.11 million bales as of last weekend, which already accounts for one-third of seasonal average arrivals for the past five years. Based on last five-year data, cotton arrivals till mid-September are only 18 percent short of average arrivals till this time of the year, which were 1.35 million bales between FY18 and FY22.
If, heavens forbid, the ginneries in the province do not receive a single additional bale of fiber from this point onwards, it would set back national output by no more than 2.4 million bales – against expected output of 8.5 million bales (forecast initially). That’s indeed on the lower side, historically speaking. But only second lowest in three years. Pakistan’s cotton production hasn’t exactly been all rainbow and sunshine in recent years, with seasonal arrivals dropping below 5.5 million bales as recently as in FY21 (as per PCGA).
So, wail we must, but this isn’t exactly the end of cotton-based textile, and no fiscal space should be devoted to bailing out the spinning industry, “at this critical time in history”. Back in FY21, the industry got by after importing 5 million bales from global markets, just 1.25 million bales more than Pakistan’s 5-year import average.
And it may not even come to that. First, cotton arrivals in Punjab are up by 12 percent, mitigating the loss of cotton from Sindh to some extent. In fact, PCGA’s records show that till date arrivals during FY23 are only short by 0.5 million bales compared to the previous season (on national basis), when the crop had in fact outperformed expectations. Moreover, cotton production in Sindh was predicted to remain on the lower side this season since the very beginning, as area cultivated in the province fell short by 13 percent compared to last year. But most of all, cotton producing districts in the northern side of the province only start to witness significant arrivals beginning mid-October particularly in Ghotki, Khairpur, and Naushero Feroze. If even half of the cotton sown in northern Sindh is salvaged, that may alone add 0.8 million bales, putting provincial output above 2.5 million bales comfortably.
But that’s also conjecture. What’s important, however, is that unlike other crops such as rice or tomatoes, Pakistan’s cotton sector does produce regular and timely data. Yet, despite abundance of information, the analyst community is quick to fall prey to misinformation, only to add uncertainty and speculation in the markets, which does not favor to Pakistan’s already weakened economic fundamentals.
Sindh and Baluchistan’s rural population is beset with one of the worst natural disasters in generations and need both national and international financial assistance. But crying hoarse about one particular vested interest’s woes is not national service, mere exploitation of tragedy.