There was some welcome economic news over the weekend, with a data set showing that cotton production in the past six months had risen 44% over last year. However, the positive outcome had little to do with policy or innovation. Instead, the timing of the rainy season was the main factor, just as it was in the reduced yield a year before. Whatever the cause though, the bumper crop has improved supply availability for the textile industry, especially exporters.
According to the Pakistan Cotton Ginners’ Association, output from June to December was 7.27 million bales — one bale is about 155kg. At the same time, the total output is expected to miss the government’s target by a long way. With the growing season nearing its end, experts do not foresee the final output figures going past 7.3 million bales. Considering the significant yield increase this year, it can only raise questions over how the government’s economic planners arrived at a projection of 9.5 million bales.
The fact is that after hitting a record 14 million bales in 2014, output has steadily declined to the current levels. Even if we ignore the dreadful 2020 crop, when output was barely 5 million bales, getting back to those levels — let alone the longer-term target of 20 million bales — without significant efforts to deliver, among other things, quality seeds, are destined to fail. Experts say that the seeds in the market were developed decades ago and based on weather conditions in Rahim Yar Khan, which often are not in line with other major growing areas in Punjab and Sindh.
Statistics also show that, despite massive domestic demand, cotton is being grown on steadily decreasing amounts of land. Farmers shifted production mainly due to a combination of low crop yields and low profit margins. At this point, Pakistan cannot even get close to meeting local demand, which has risen to about 16 million bales. Yarn imports alone totaled $1.48 billion last year, a figure that may increase despite higher domestic output because of the rupee’s freefall. With imports skyrocketing, every little reduction helps.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2021.
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