A new season, a new target; for 2017/18, the cotton production target is currently set at 14.04 million bales from 3.11 million hectares. Out of this, Punjab is expected to produce 10 million bales from 2.43 million hectares. Is it realistic?

This column has written about the declining cotton area and production from Punjab (Read: ‘Punjab's lost cotton,' published on March 28, 2017).

We saw that not only has the area under cotton in Punjab declined significantly over the past several years, but so has its production; where once the province accounted for 90 percent of Pakistan's total cotton production, in the most recent season this figure was just 72 percent. And while the cotton area in Sindh has been increasing over the years, it has not been nearly commensurate with the lost area in Punjab.

Punjab lost some of its cotton areas to sugarcane last year. Then, there's the issue of water this season; south Punjab is facing water shortages in some of its canals due to mismanagement and ill-timed works, delaying the sowing of the cotton crop. Sowing in the cotton-growing belt, especially in Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and D G Khan, has been very slow due to lower availability of water in the canals and flawed water distribution mechanism. Moreover, the ban on early sowing of cotton in Punjab this season also pushed growers to other crops.

In the recently concluded season, Punjab's cotton production has been less than seven million bales from just 1.78 million hectares. As per the SBP's report, “This was the lowest area under the cotton crop in Punjab after 1985-86, when the crop area was 1,746 thousand hectare," and “The crop yields had already plummeted to 493 kg per hectare in FY16, from the average of 727 kg during the preceding four years." So, it's unlikely that the targets will be met.

Moreover, there is always a tendency to set the initial target optimistically high. For the past several years, the cotton production target has always been higher than the actual production. This target is then revised downwards three to four times as the year rolls on. Given that the past two years have seen the lowest production levels since the early 2000s, there is little to warrant optimism.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2017