Thursday May 30, 2024

Cotton farmers lose hope in crop after a season of losses

By Munawar Hasan
February 29, 2024
Labourers unload cotton from a tractor-trolley at the Ghalla Mandi in Bahawalpur. — APP/File
Labourers unload cotton from a tractor-trolley at the Ghalla Mandi in Bahawalpur. — APP/File

LAHORE: Cotton farmers are losing their appetite in the crop for the upcoming season after a dismal 2023-24 season that saw prices plunge and output shrink to an unprecedented low level in Punjab, the country's main cotton belt.

The main takeaway from the outgoing cotton season has been the low cotton output in the Punjab province. The provincial Agriculture Department has issued a second estimate of cotton production, grossly downgrading the output estimate to 6.02 million bales from 8.2 million bales. The down-slide in yield led to a shrinking of the provincial share in national cotton production from over 70 percent to an unprecedented low level of barely 50 percent.

The data released by Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA) however portrays a more pessimistic view of Punjab’s cotton output, pegging the crop size at just 4.26 million bales.

Farmers are annoyed at the low lint prices in the outgoing season as the declining trend in cotton rates has been incomprehensible for them.

"I am appalled by the fact that cotton prices were low despite the relatively small size of the crop. In spite of the fact that the government timely announced the cotton seed price at Rs8,500 per 40kg, the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) failed to intervene in the market and did not bother to buy even a single cotton bale," said Haji Ramzan, spokesperson of Kissan Board Pakistan (KBP).

Farmers have been baffled by the behaviour of the cotton market as dull sentiments prevailed during most of the season for the growers. "Adding fuel to the fire, the federal and provincial high ups showed unnecessary optimism about the crop size, which further led to a downward trend in cotton prices," Ramzan said.

The last five years have been proven disastrous for the cotton crop in the country, especially in the Punjab province. Against domestic demand of over 12 million bales, Pakistan failed to produce even 10 million bales in this period while Punjab’s contribution hovered around 6 million bales.

Before 2019-20, cotton production saw a rise to over 10 million bales successively but this momentum could not be continued mainly due to poor seeds, adulterated and costly inputs and unfavourable market conditions for the farmers.

The early cotton sowing is going to start in the Punjab province. Keeping in view the disappointing performance of the cotton, the upcoming sowing season presents not so good circumstances for the growers.

As growers are dejected over losses in cotton farming, they may not show an inclination to grow silver fiber in a big way. The gloomy picture may result in another low production year for the country, which heavily relies on the textile sector for job creation and foreign exchange earnings.

According to the FAS report, a smaller crop is foreseen for Pakistan in 2024-25—down approximately 0.6 million bales—despite a projection of unchanged area. Pakistan’s yields in recent years have been the most volatile of any major cotton producer, and a 10-percent decline from the previous year is forecast for 2024/25 using a 5-year average. Area has also been variable, and has been trending downward.

However, following the area’s strong rebound in 2023/24 to a level close to that realized four years earlier—and given favorable reports of preparations underway in Pakistan for the next crop—USDA’s forecast holds Pakistan’s 2024-25 area unchanged from the year before. Output is projected slightly above 6 million bales, about equal to Pakistan’s output in the year preceding the devastating floods that occurred there in 2022-23.