Cotton boom back in the south
November 04, 2011
The central regions of Pakistan, where the five rivers of Punjab meet, cotton boom is back after a lull of decade. The introduction of new seed has helped the crop get rid of the virus that ate up the prosperity of the region and plunged the countryside into poverty.
Last year helped the farmers to make up their losses. This year they are simply prosperous. Rs2500 – 30,000/40 kg is being considered a good rate and prices are stable. Though the rents of arable lands have risen and water scarcity remains a problem, particularly in Bahawalpur district, the gains are the highest.
The deadly virus that affected cotton for fairly long time had made this cash crop a risky business. Many small farmers stuck to this crop because they did not know about the alternative; they had been depending on it heavily for the reason, other than cash, that it yielded stem that was being used fuel in the countryside. The acacia had been removed from the heads of fields and sheesham just vanished. The animal dung only could not cater to the needs of the rising number of hearths due to mammoth increase in population.
In some areas crop patterns changed as some middle-sized farmers turned to forestry due to rising cost of timber for fuel and furniture. The small farmers started cultivating acacia for the first time on their farm heads contemplating abandoning the cotton crop. By the time the date-palm trees had become old and started being replaced with the new ones.
Cotton had fallen prey to the neglect of industrialists dealing in textiles. Those dealing in sugar had proved smart competitors who, to sustain profits, also paid attention to research. The cultivation of sugarcane just increases its acreage at the cost of cotton. But this could not prove a good alternativebecause the central regions suffer from the shortage of canal water and the pumping cost had become high due to rising energy prices.
The introduction of new seeds in the last couple of years has made the cotton boom return. This year the south is comparatively less affected by floods though the flowing of Sutlej River damaged cotton in Vihari and Bahawalnagar districts. The cotton producing regions of Baluchistan and Sindhwere ruined by rains. Cotton was just in high demand when it was picked and plucked in the southern regions of Punjab.The cotton season is also a marriage season in central Pakistan. Ceremonies have been planned in advance and hardly a single night passes by when youth don’t dance on the beat of drums. The marriage ceremonies will keep on taking place till the fields are cleared and wheat, the sorry crop, is sown. The south will now attend to its bread amidst scarcity of canal water and the rising energy prices. The oil companies will mint money as will do their dear government. One does not know about the profits of the big landowners but for the smaller ones, the only gain is the stem which they crush for the fodder of their livestock, other than grains.
No one knows how long cotton will spell prosperity for the central regions of Pakistan. Once proper research was a problem, climate change has become a great challenge to the survival of cotton crop. Nothing is normal with seasons. Farmers, thoughmajority of them having little scientific knowledge but possessing traditional wisdom, know it very well that winter is approaching one month late. After all, cotton has shifted to the south from central Punjab where humidity level had risen, after it remained a habitat for this crop.
Unusual and unexpected rains in the cotton belt though have not affected the crop this year, if it becomes a routine matter the farmers will turn to sugarcane. Cotton production will certainly decline. Erratic and unusual rains may hit South Punjab and change its crop patterns after they have ruined southeastern Balochistan and the lower parts of Sindh. Cotton has changed the landscape of the south and even its society. The mud houses are just rare. Road networks and electricity has introduced consumer economy. New cities have emerged on the G.T Road and private schools, colleges and university have mushroomed.
With the southassuming the centre stage in consumer economy, the prospects of its becoming the centre of politics are already clear. The PPP is counting heavily on it for its landslide victory in the upcoming elections. The PML-N is entertaining new, but not naïve, ideas to dominate it. Though the MQM does not have any chance to gain grounds here, still it has a room to maneuver. Regionalism too has become a force after the formation of Bahawalpur National Awami Party (BNAP).