LAHORE: Punjab, the largest cotton-producing province in the country, is expected to miss its cotton production target for the 2023-24 season, after a severe pest attack and a crippling water shortage in the core area, officials said on Tuesday.
According to an official estimate, cotton output in the province is likely to be 6.8 to 7.0 million bales against the target of 8.33 million bales. With Punjab’s cotton harvest faltering, national output is also feared to be around 7.0 to 8.4 million bales against the target of 12.77 million bales, according to an assessment.
Although provincial Agriculture Department attributed the loss in yield to pest onslaught and scarcity of water, high cost of farm inputs, including fertiliser and pesticides have also contributed to the drop in productivity this year.
Ever-increasing inflation coupled with high cost of energy left little room for farmers to invest in their standing crops for the needed tending. More importantly, lack of tangible measures by the government and dwindling prices also demoralised farmers, who refrained from protecting their crops from pests or providing groundwater.
It has been pointed out that many farmers might not go ahead with last picking of pest ravaged pockets despite ripe fibre as it needs considerable amount of money.
Even though the previous government tasked Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) to purchase one million bales of cotton following the fall in its prices in open market below the intervention threshold of Rs8,500/maund, the TCP took only cosmetic measures of inviting bids from cotton procurement agents, cotton procurement firms and labour contractors. The TCP shies away from cotton procurement on the ground despite the fact that in many places, cotton price has nosedived to Rs8,000/maund or lower.
Echoing expected shortfall in cotton output, provincial Agriculture Secretary on Tuesday indirectly conceded decline in fibre production in the provinces against the official target. He observed that the total production of cotton this year in the province is expected to be double than last year’s level.
In 2022-23, Punjab’s cotton production stood at 3.21 million bales as it is partially damaged from floods.
Agriculture Department, Punjab is taking priority measures for the welfare of farmers on the instructions of the chief minister, he said, adding steps were being taken to reduce their cost of production so that the production targets of important crops could be achieved.
The secretary said that special teams of the Agriculture Department are participating alongside the farmers for the recovery of cotton this year.
Albeit cotton arrivals rose by 80 percent during the first fortnight of September compared to the corresponding period last year. It should be noted that last year’s crop was ravaged by floods.
According to data released by the Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA) on September 18, 2023, total cotton arrivals reached 3.933 million bales, with the latest fortnightly flow of 0.892 million bales. This is marginally down from the 0.925 million bales recorded in the previous 15-day period (August 15-31, 2023), showing a decline of 3.7 percent.
According to observers, if this descending trend continues in the ensuing fortnights, there is a strong likelihood that cotton production target of 12.77 million bales would be a distant reality this year, despite bringing considerable area under cultivation. Some experts have expressed a highly pessimistic target of 6.5 to 7.5 million bales.
One of the main reasons behind low projections is the pest onslaught reported in Southern Punjab. Infestation of whitefly and jassid, along with mealybug attack, has severely impacted the growth of the cotton plants.