Multan          -          With high hopes of earning a good fortune from cotton, Maria bibi, a cotton picker widow from a village of Lodhran district, had a plan to marry off his daughter in December.

The things, however, did not turn out as envisaged by her. Poor crop left her with virtually no work, forcing her to cancel the marriage till next crop. 

“We had fixed the date for the marriage but we can’t hold the function. I don’t have money for it. I was hopeful that there will be a good crop but it’s worse than the last year. It’s like a nightmare,” said a sobbing Maria Bibi while narrating the details.

The end of cotton season marks the beginning of marriage season besides generating a number of other economic activities like sale and purchase of vehicles and construction of new homes in rural Pakistan every year. However, poor crop has brought with it a storm of rural poverty, halting the entire economic and business activity.

President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), Khalid Khokhar, disclosed that cotton picker women received Rs40 billion less in wages due to poor crop. “It’s not just the wages that they have lost. Each rural household used to get about 80 maunds of free cotton wood to burn from one acre. That too has gone missing and now they’ll have to pay for the wood for their kitchen,” he added.

Bodies like Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA) have predicted that the country is likely to produce 30 per cent less cotton than the target set by the government. PCGA Chairman Javed Suhail Rehmani told The Nation that currently the shortfall stood at 20.49 per cent and it was likely to soar. Citing a recent fortnightly cotton production report released by the PCGA, he disclosed that 1.9 million less bales reached the ginning factories till December 2 as last year the factories received 9366936 bales till this time compared to just 7447544 bales this year.

Strongly criticizing government’s policies towards cotton, Mr. Khokhar said that the major reason behind destruction of cotton crop was government’s negligence. “Poor seed and counterfeit pesticides are two major reasons besides weather conditions. Despite repeated requests from the growers for supply of quality seed and pesticides, the government did nothing,” he maintained.

He pointed out that although country’s 60 per cent exports were cotton-based, it was excluded from Prime Minister’s Rs. 309 billion Agricultural Emergency Programme. “At a time when the country badly needs research on cotton, they have stopped it. It clearly indicates that the rulers want the farmers to shift to other crops from cotton,” he claimed. He said that the country was likely to get just eight million bales against the target of 15 million. “It will cause $7 billion loss to the country,” he added. Talking to The Nation, Malik Masood, a cotton grower from Multan, lamented that there was no one to listen to the hues and cries of poor farmers. He revealed that the average per acre yield stood at 12 maunds. “We used to get 45 to 60 maunds per acre. Now we’ve harvested hardly 12 maunds. We cannot meet even our expenses. We’re literally bankrupt,” he added. He demanded the government to step forward and announce a support programme for the cotton growers. He lamented that the production cost went up by almost 80 per cent while on the other hand the government did not announce even support price for the cotton.

Commenting on this situation, Khalid Khokhar said that not announcing the support price for cotton was a plan to oblige All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA). “Instead of announcing the support price, the government has allowed import of duty free cotton. Similarly, the Trading Corporation of Pakistan has not purchased even a single  bale so far. This all is further adding to the woes of cotton growers and ginners,” he maintained.

A former Senior Vice President of PCGA Asim Saeed Sheikh pointed out that the cotton oil cake was the only oil cake on which five per cent tax had been imposed by the government. He revealed that the poor condition of cotton crop could be assessed from the fact that just 573 out of 1200 ginning factories were operational in the country.

A survey of ginning factories in South Punjab conducted by this scribe disclosed that at least 210 ginneries and 315 solvent plants had been shut down by their owners in just this part of country. “Yes it’s true and it happened because of poor crop. Over 14000 workers from cotton industry have become unemployed due to this crisis in just South Punjab,” he added. He said that that 80 per cent of Pakistan’s poor already lived in rural areas and concurrent destruction of crops would further aggravate the situation.

It’s not just the agriculture sector the country is perfroming poor in. Renowned economist Dr. Hafeez Pasha has warned that the ratio of poverty will soar to 40 per cent till June 2020 from 13.3 per cent in June 2018 if the country continues to perform badly in economic sector. “The number of people living below poverty line will jump to 87 million till June 2020 from 67 million in June 2018,” he anticipated in a recent interview to the media.