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LAHORE: The major reason for stagnant yields and falling area under cotton in Pakistan is the lack of good quality seeds as average cotton seed available hovers in the vicinity of having 44 percent germination.

“This means 44 out of every 100 seeds sprout, all others are duds. The result is that farmers typically apply 16kg of seed per acre which have uneven germination across a field. With good quality seed, only 8kg per acre would be required,” stated the State of Pakistan’s Agriculture Report 2023 launched by Pakistan Business Council on Thursday.

The report stated that Pakistan’s cotton production has declined over the years with an average of 10 to 12 million bales per annum produced in the last two decades but falling precipitously in the last few years.

“China and Australia are major cotton producing countries that cultivate irrigated cotton like Pakistan. Their average productivity per acre has continued to rise over the years (barring years of drought) while Pakistan’s yields have remained constant at around 1 bale per acre with a fall in recent years,” stated the report.

The report mentions that yield gains in China and Australia were mainly led by the adoption of improved seeds following by improved farming techniques, seedling transplantation, better crop management strategies to combat disease, more suitable irrigation, stronger fertilizer application, and the adoption of genetically modified (GM) technology traits in seeds for pest and weed control.

In the last 20 years, India’s cotton production has more than doubled. In the first few years of the 21st century, India’s cotton production hovered between 14 and 16 million bales while Pakistan’s cotton production ranged between 11 and 14 million bales. This was the period in which Bt cotton had been introduced in Pakistan but without a robust seed industry. Yields rose sharply.

In the subsequent decade, Pakistan’s cotton production continued to stagnate within this range, India’s cotton production skyrocketed to almost 40 million bales as early as 2013.

“Poor quality seed means low germination levels leading to higher seed cost per acre and more labour cost. It means low yields which lead to low earnings. It also means a higher susceptibility of the crop to climatic effects, and disease and pest attacks, inability to compete against weeds, and poor uptake of nutrients,” stated the report.

Moreover, Bt cotton was brought to Pakistan through irregular channels without any formal stewardship, which is why, although most of Pakistan’s cotton has transgenic technology, its effectiveness remains questionable.

“All these factors culminate in sub-par cotton yields. The small farmer is the biggest sufferer from poor quality seed,” reasoned the report.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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