The government of Pakistan’s Punjab province has lifted a ban restricting cotton cultivation. The ban, which prevented farmers from cultivating cotton before April 15 of this year, was put in place in January to reduce the risk of losing crops and cotton plants to pink bollworm. Upon implementation of the ban, the government warned that cotton cultivated before April 15 would be seized and destroyed under Section 144 of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure code, and that legal action would be taken against the farmers. Despite this warning, Pakistan’s Agricultural Department reportedly had to destroy more than 100 acres of cotton sown illegally under the ban.
Sowing cotton too early increases the threat of pink bollworm infestation and risks the loss of an entire season’s worth of crops. The pink bollworm moth is an invasive species in most of the world’s cotton-growing areas. It lays its eggs inside of cotton bolls; when the larvae hatch, they chew through cotton lint in order to eat the seeds. The destruction of the cotton’s protective layer leaves it vulnerable to other insects, pests, and parasites. A wide-reaching infestation of pink bollworm would be devastating to Pakistan’s cotton production and would impede the industry from reaching its 2017/18 government-mandated target of 14.04 million bales. Cotton sown in or after mid-April in Pakistan is at a significantly decreased risk for infestation. This is the first time that Pakistan has issued such a ban; in previous years, early sowing has, at times, been promoted.
Pakistan is the world’s fourth-largest producer of cotton, after India, China, and the United States, but production and cotton cultivation has faced challenges in certain Pakistani provinces. In 2016/17, the government target for cotton cultivation was 14.1 million bales. However, sowing and cultivation in Punjab fell to just 20.82% during last year, more than 15% less than the national level. This was due, in part, to high cotton seed prices and costs of cotton plants, but low prices for saleable cotton, as well as changing weather patterns and increasing insect infestations. There are also concerns about the type of seeds used, as the current GM seeds available to farmers may be too vulnerable to pests such as the pink bollworm, which have adapted and developed relatively strong immunity against many pesticides and toxins. This ban, however, seems to have established a positive and strong basis for cultivation and for Pakistan’s cotton market for the 2017/18 year. Additionally, the government is reportedly planning to acquire two more advanced varieties of genetically-modified cotton seeds from Monsanto. These seeds will have better resistance against pests and weeds, and are expected to offer higher yields, boosting the production and output of Pakistan’s cotton market.
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