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Climate change playing havoc with cotton production in Pakistan and affecting its economy

Heavy rainfall, high temperatures and major pest outbreaks have taken a heavy toll on Pakistan’s
cotton growing districts of Punjab and Sindh province this year. The Ministry of Textile Industry
has expressed concern over the drop in cotton production by 28 per cent during 2015-16 caused
by climate change-induced phenomena.
The erratic weather has proved lethal for the production of cotton, one of the country’s key cash
crops. Last year was the hottest season in the cotton growing regions over the past decade and
with similar weather conditions predicted for next year, cotton production may continue to slide.
However, government incentives, such as lower costs for fertiliser and pesticide, will help
farmers compensate their losses.
According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16, cotton contributes one percent of
Pakistan’s GDP and 5% of the country’s agriculture value added. The survey shows cotton
production has dropped dramatically, with the industry missing its 5.5% growth target.
To maintain the supply of cotton to the textile industry, imports of raw cotton increased to 3,
45,000 tonnes, a growth of over 250 percent compared to the same period last year.
Besides the erratic weather, farmers blame the widespread use of Bt Cotton seeds for the low
production. The genetically modified cotton variety has been used in Pakistan since 2010 and
now makes up 88% of the crop area. The genetically modified crop is vulnerable to pest attacks
and so needs pesticides in large quantities that poor farmers cannot afford.
The government needs to focus on research that supports farmers, such as introducing indigenous
seed varieties, rather than promoting the interests of multinational companies. Experts and
farmers recently voiced strong concerns over the recent decision of the Ministry of Climate
Change to issue multinational companies with licenses for GM corn and cotton in Pakistan
without following proper procedures.
Pakistan is using the first generation of Bt cotton biotechnology, while more advanced varieties
have not been introduced because of the lack of legal protection for such patents in Pakistan.
Farmers believe this Bt cotton is ineffective against many pests such as pink boll worm. 
For this purpose, the agriculture extension department needs to educate the farmers about the impacts of
climatic change and pesticide use.
People are now shifting to other crops and vegetable after being disheartened by the performance
of this cash crop. Cotton commissioner Abdullah estimates that this year, about 15% less cotton
was sown compared to last year and 25% less than the target set for the current year.
The cotton growing area has shrunk to 2.46 million hectares in 2016-'17 from 2.91 million
hectares in 2015-'16. The ministry has urged research institutes to prioritise introducing new crop
varieties that can withstand climate change and pests. The National Biodiversity Committee has
been asked to monitor Bt cotton varieties.
There is a strong need of training farmers to use pesticides better control pink boll worm and
introduce new varieties and practices to minimise losses. Similarly the provincial governments
need establish a Cotton Crop Management Group to develop effective policies after the poor
production of the crop in country’s largest province.
Most of the government’s incentives and subsidies had not reached farmers at the grassroots
level. The government should ensure that all the benefits should go directly to the farmers
instead of middlemen and businessmen.


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