Pests threaten Sindh’s Bt cotton production

The cotton crop is under pest and ‘sucking complex’ attack again this year in lower Sindh as crop has entered picking stage.

Picking will be in full swing by September. But pest attacks on Bt cotton — a genetically modified variety, which produces an insecticide to bollworm — have become a regular phenomenon, due mainly to poor quality of seed, climate change, procurement price and degeneration.

In Sindh, Bt cotton has been sown since 2010 as weather is suitable for this variety, especially in the coastal belt of province’s lower region.

This is why Sindh is still coming up with more per-acre yields than Punjab despite factors affecting cotton crop, says Dr Khalid Abdullah, the federal cotton commissioner.

Sindh achieved yields of more than 1,000 kilograms per hectare between 2011 and 2014 as compared to Punjab’s 700kg to 750kg during the period, he said, quoting figures of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

In 2011-12, per-hectare yield in Sindh touched 1,546kg, more than double as compared to Punjab’s.

This season (i.e. 2017-18), Sindh has achieved nearly 94 per cent of the sowing target of 650,000 hectares, according to data of the provincial agricultural department.

Cotton was cultivated on 636,636 hectares last year, which was 96pc of the sowing target.

However, per-acre yields in Sindh are on the wane: 1,055kg in 2013-14, 1019kg in 2014-15, 952kg in 2015-16 and 961kg in 2016-17.

Sindh has also failed to meet the four-million-bale target since 2012-13 as production varies between 3.4m and 3.5m bales. A plain reading of statistics shows that the province lost around 94kg per hectare of produce in this period.

Mahesh Kumar, a former chairman of the Pakistan Cotton Ginners’ Association, says the area under cotton cultivation is being substituted by sugar cane as growers feel they can make better returns in this crop.

Moreover, ginning outturn — the percentage of ginned lint obtained from a mass of seed cotton — is also below par, which suits growers but not viable for ginners, he says.

A comparison based on the figures of the Agricultural Statistics of Pakistan 2011-12 shows that average per-hectare cotton yield in Sindh was 40 maunds (1 maund = 37.3kg) against 22 maunds in Pakistan.

The province only lagged behind Australia, Syria and China — three top cotton-producing nations — where per-hectare average productivity stood at 45.6, 37.5 and 37.4 maunds, respectively.

Sindh’s progressive cotton producers contend that growers show overreliance on Bt variety in anticipation of maximum yields. However, this variety is now prone to pest attacks like leaf curl virus, pink bollworm, thrips, etc.

Nadeem Shah, a progressive cotton producer from Matiari, one of Sindh’s best cotton-producing areas, adulterated seeds find its way in Sindh from Rahimyar Khan in Punjab.

“No one checks the marketing of adulterated and impure seed in Sindh. Growers buy all non-Bt variety considering them as Bt,” he says.

Mr Shah, who is also a member of Pakistan Central Cotton Committee’s (PCCC) technical sub-committee which analyses growth and other trends in cotton, believes there is need to transfer technology at grass-roots level such as pest scouting, balanced use of fertiliser, and use of trappers that control pests in fields.

When Bt cotton was introduced, farmers used to obtain 50 to 70 maunds per acre. But per-acre yields are not more than 40 maunds at present.

Growers also use Sindh’s indigenous varieties like sadori, qalandari, rehmani, cris-134, Sindh1, etc, but these varieties don’t give that much productivity. The procurement price of cotton is another factor that disappoints growers. Moreover, the support price of cotton is not fixed.

The Trading Corporation of Pakistan also avoids intervening to lift cotton in case prices fell below the market average. Growers complain that with an inadequate cotton price, farmers are not able to recover their cost of production.

Many disappointed growers now tend to look towards other crops such as sugar cane whose indicative price is announced every year.

Dr Shahnawaz Khoro, an entomologist at PCCC’s Central Cotton Research Institute Sakrand, agrees that Bt cotton has developed serious issues due to supply of mixed seeds.

(Source : Dawn)