Economic managers of the country have decided to frame a national sugar policy to secure the cotton belt, which is under threat from the growing number of sugar mills and cultivation of sugarcane in such zones.
Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan and Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal have also fiercely opposed the setting up of sugar mills in the cotton zone.
Almost 70% of sugar mills are located in the core cotton zone of the country, especially in Punjab. The presence of mills in top cotton growing areas and their increasing crushing capacity have caused a 26% decline in cotton sowing areas, especially in south Punjab including Rahim Yar Khan and Muzaffargarh.
The ruling Sharif family had also shifted their sugar mills in south Punjab that led to filing of a case in the apex court, which ordered the mill-owners to stop sugarcane crushing.
A senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research told The Express Tribune that the issue was taken up in a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) held on June 7.
During the discussion, the commerce minister pointed out that sugarcane plantation in the areas meant for cotton sowing had badly hurt the production of cotton. He expressed fear that the trend may eventually bring down exports of cotton products from the country.
He insisted that a study should be undertaken to secure a balance between sowing of the two key crops and ensure that one crop was not cultivated at the cost of other.
Endorsing his views, the planning, development and reform minister emphasised the need for a review of the national sugar policy in consultation with all stakeholders.
The ECC directed the Ministry of National Food Security and Research to conduct a comprehensive review of the cropping pattern of major crops and make policy recommendations to ensure the sowing of important crops in line with requirements of the country and with support of the Ministry of Planning as well as in consultation with all stakeholders.
The Ministry of Textile Industry has already demanded that provinces should stop granting permission for setting up new sugar mills in the cotton growing areas, which are shrinking.
“Provinces may be asked to refrain from issuing no-objection certificates for establishing, increasing capacity or shifting of sugar mills to the cotton growing areas,” it said.
Sugarcane cultivation has widened in the wake of improved returns and timely supply of inputs. In the meantime, sugar prices have also gone up from Rs31 to Rs68 per kg over the past 10 years.
The Ministry of Textile Industry pointed out that the increase in sugar prices had encouraged the setting up of more sugar mills, which went up from 45 to 85 across the country. Of these, 45 were located in Punjab, 32 in Sindh and eight in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“It is very likely that cotton production in the Mianwali district will also be affected after the installation of new sugar mills in the area,” the ministry said.
Sugarcane cultivation has risen 27% so far in Punjab. Cotton area has also been squeezed by the popularity of maize and potato crops in Sahiwal, Faisalabad and Khanewal districts.
Cotton is a raw material that is used in the textile industry, which has a major share in Pakistan’s export earnings.
Weaker cotton prices were also a reason why farmers were opting for other profitable crops, the food ministry official said, adding cotton growers had been given no protection like producers of many industrial products, though cotton imports from India had brought down prices in the domestic market.