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LAHORE: The Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) has proposed to engage technology-providing seed companies to revitalise the cotton breeding programmes considering local issues like heat tolerance and uniform maturity which are suitable for machine picking and high-density production.

PKI President Khalid Mahmood Khokhar while talking to the Business Recorder alleged that agriculture is an important pillar of the economy but it was overlooked by the previous governments.

There is a dire need to look into the crop having significant contribution to the economy and place the same appropriate priority level. The crops, which are a burden on the economy or natural resources, must be kept at bay and produced just to meet domestic requirements.

Cotton is a basic raw material to the largest industrial sector and the largest export earnings which should be given its due share, he proposed.

Pakistan has the potential of 15-18 million bales from the existing resources (water and soil). The historical area under cotton in Pakistan was 3.2 million hectare which has declined to less than 2 million hectare.

Pakistan once produced over 14 million bales which have shrunken to 7 million bales. On the other hand, the demand in the local textile industry has risen to the level of 15-16 million bales and the gap is fulfilled by import, he claimed.

Khalid said cotton growers should be facilitated to increase area and enhance productivity by providing equal opportunity and a level-playing field in the region. Hardly we can name any country, which grows cotton without giving subsidy either in terms of direct assistance, insurance, reduced input prices, support price etc, he added.

He claimed government funds being spent on cotton research are even lesser than Bangladesh and Nepal. The PCCC, the apex R&D organisation, is relying on Rs 50 per bale of cotton collected from the textile Industry.

They are not paying for the last three years and the PCCC has cut its R&D expenditures. The receivable of cotton cess on the textile industry has risen to over Rs 3.2 billion. The scientists and staff of the PCCC are not being paid their salaries and pensions for the last six months due to less recovery and the government has not given any supplementary grant.

He proposed to enhance the cotton R&D investment by at least 2% of agriculture GDP in the next three years.

The productivity gap between progressive growers and non-progressive growers (weather small or large growers) is huge. In the same village, with the same nature of the soil, one grower is getting 40 mounds per acre whereas the neighbouring farmer getting 12 mounds per acre. This could be because of no access to technology, liquidity issue, sub-standard input or limited advisory services from the agriculture department.

It direly needs to energise the provincial agriculture extension department to use the latest technology to educate farmers and enforce strictly the quality of input, especially of fertilisers, seeds and pesticides. If somehow this gap is reduced by 50%, five million additional bales can be added with the same resources or area allocation, Khalid remarked.

He also stressed the need for promoting farm mechanization among small growers as well through service providers. Besides this ginning factories be upgraded by giving them a cash subsidy for the most efficient and modern technology. Cotton ginning in Pakistan is the weakest link after cotton “seed” and needs immediate attention.

Pakistan has the capacity to gin 14 million bales of cotton in 1300 ginning factories with primitive technology copied from 1947 USA-made machines.

Khalid Khokhar said a conservative estimate of cottonseed business is about Rs 30-40 billion, whereas, over 700 seed companies are unable to provide the required quantity of cotton seed and the gap is filled either by sub-standard Benola or by illegal seed entrepreneurs operating in villages.

None of the seed companies could gain confidence among cotton growers for the provision of quality seed and purity. It is direly needed that multinational seed companies with a footprint in Pakistan in the maize or vegetable seed business be approached to enter in this business. All is needed effective enforcement of seed rules.

A cotton breeding programme in different research institutes must be discussed together and set its objectives clearly defined and consider the national requirement. Heat tolerance is the key area to be considered a prime breeding objective. Other areas like single stem erect type, suitable for high density and machine picking, uniform maturing and high yielding cotton varieties are required for future cotton cultivation.

The variety approval system in Pakistan is compromised and has to be transformed into a transparent decision-making entity in the best national interest. The private sector in the breeding programmes must be encouraged and supported by training and research material, he concluded.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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