Islamabad/Karachi: Pakistan may miss its cotton production target for the year if farmers don’t immediately quell a pest attack, a government official said.
“There is a widespread attack by millibugs,” Masood Amjad Rana, cotton commissioner at the agriculture ministry in Islamabad, said on Wednesday. “If this is not controlled, cotton output could fall by two or three million bales within the next month.”
The government had forecast that cotton production could increase in the year starting 1 July to 13.2 million bales from 13 million bales last year. Pakistan, the world’s fourth largest cotton grower, cultivates the crop from April to June and harvests start in September.
South Asia’s second biggest economy plans to boost annual cotton output to 21 million bales by 2015 to help cut costs for domestic textile makers, who compete with rivals in China and India. Textile shipments account for more than 60% of the country’s exports.
The millibug attack can be controlled by ensuring availability of pesticides in the affected area, Rana said. If managed properly, the crop could achieve the production target and “even surpass” it during the year, he added.
“It is extremely dangerous,” said Qamaruzzaman Shah, president of the Agriculture Chamber of Sindh, one of the main cotton-growing provinces in Pakistan. “If not controlled, it could cut cotton production by half.”
The millibug virus attack appears as a powder that attacks the stem of the plant and leaves it dry in a few days. The pest can reappear a week after being sprayed with pesticide.
“The only proper way to fight this is aerial sprays on all the affected areas,” said Shah.
Pakistan, which expects total exports to rise 13% to $18.6 billion in the year ending 30 June, is counting on higher textile shipments to help reach that target. Pakistan forecasts exports will increase as it finds new markets to help sustain higher growth, commerce minister Humayun Akhtar Khan said. Exports in the year that started 1 July are expected to climb to $19.2 billion, he said.