Punjab misses cotton sowing target

By Munawar Hasan
May 30, 2024
A farmer harvests cotton in his field. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: Punjab has missed the cotton sowing target set for the 2024-25 season and failed to match last year’s sowing levels, an official told The News on Tuesday.


Farmers have been less enthusiastic about cotton cultivation this season mainly due to unfeasible cultivation economics and extreme weather patterns, including unprecedented hot conditions and canal water shortages, adds the official.

According to the official, against the cotton sowing target of 4.15 million acres, it is estimated that about 3.4-3.5 million acres of land or approximately 19 per cent lesser of the target could best be brought under cotton cultivation in the ongoing season.

Initially, the provincial agriculture department was expecting that cotton sowing would be completed by mid-April. However, keeping in view the snail’s-pace progress in plantation due to multiple factors, the cultivation period was extended to end-May, but to no avail.

Terming it an alarming development, the official says that one of the biggest shortfalls is being witnessed in the core cotton belt of south Punjab, especially in DG Khan, Multan and Bahawalpur Divisions. These three divisions occupy the lion’s share of 85 per cent in the total cotton area in the province.

Official figures suggest that DG Khan, Multan and Bahawalpur Divisions fell short in sowing target by 34 percent, 30 percent and 23 percent respectively.The last-ditch efforts by the provincial agriculture department to bring maximum area under cotton failed due to the severe and prolonged hot weather being witnessed for about a month.

The ongoing heatwave in excess to 4-6 degrees Celsius of normal summer temperatures burnt plants, wreaking havoc with newly sown saplings as well as standing crop. The paradox of climate change unfolded in the harshest way in the ongoing year, first with below average temperatures in February and March and later with rains for early sown crop, inhibiting germination of cotton seeds.

Farmers had to resow crop due to a rare cold condition prohibiting seed germination and because of a phenomenon called ‘karand’ in the local language where seed could not sprout out of soil due to the hardening of surface after rains.

The late-sowing cotton crop met with the equally brutal weather event of the extremely hot weather of over 40 degrees C in the month of May, burning cotton sapling despite best efforts by the growers. Farmers initially tried to grow cotton through machine plantation, but it did not yield the desired results.

Then they sowed cotton with hand on beds which yielded some positive outcomes at different places. Such exertion required extra efforts and money, putting further financial strain on farmers.

Last year’s huge losses occurred due to low cotton prices also discouraged farmers to opt for cotton plantation this season. The federal and provincial governments did little to restore confidence of farmers in the viability of cotton crop. The erratic supply of cotton also created hurdles in smooth cotton sowing in various parts of the province, despite better-than-expected river flows.

President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) Khalid Khokhar says: “the prices of all agricultural inputs including fertilizer, pesticides, diesel, electricity, etc have gone through the roof, but the price of produce continues to show the downward trend, discouraging farmers to go for cotton.”

“Last year, the previous government of Shehbaz Sharif announced to buy cotton at Rs8,500 per maund but could not take practical steps to implement the plan. This year, there is complete silence on the part of the government about cotton’s indicative price.” When asked about the impact of climate change on crops, he says he has never “witnessed such harsh scorching heat that makes plantation impossible.”