By admin       2017-04-06

Two year ago, when the deadly White Fly insect pest struck, it left not only Punjab’s cotton growers, but also its ginning industry, devastated. Out of the 275 ginning units then there were 422 in 2006-07 all but 59 shut up shop. As farmers lost confidence in growing the crop after suffering heavy yield losses, cotton acreage in the state plunged from 4.36 lakh hectares (lh) in 2015-16 to 2.56 lh in the last season. The drop was even more, when seen against the 6.14 lh area in 2006-07 at the height of the ‘Bt revolution’.But that mood of despair seems to be giving way to guarded optimism in the new kharif season. Many farmers in Punjab’s cotton belt covering the southern districts of Firozpur, Faridkot, Fazilka, Muktsar, Bathinda, Barnala, Mansa and Sangrur are planning to sow the fibre crop again after harvesting of wheat towards mid-April. While the state’s agriculture department expects the sown area to increase to 4 lh, even ginners and traders are confident about it crossing 3.5 lh.The change of mood has had mainly to do with prices. Prices of kapas (raw un-ginned cotton) averaged Rs 6,000-6,200 per quintal in 2016-17, compared with Rs 3,800-4,200 in the previous year. But more striking was yields: Many farmers harvested yields of 11-12 quintals per acre, compared to the state’s normal average of 7-8 quintals. In fact, Punjab’s cotton production (in terms of lint fibre) actually rose from 7.50 lakh bales (of 170 kg each) in 2015-16 to 9.5 lakh bales in 2016-17, despite a sharp fall in area.Prices and yields apart, awareness about White Fly control measures appears to have also played a part in the return of confidence among farmers in cotton. In 2015-16, nearly a third of the 4.36 lh area sown under the crop was seen to have faced total devastation due to the pest, which sucks the sap from the phloem tissues that carry nutrients from the leaves to other plant parts. Even in the remaining two-thirds area, yield losses were placed at roughly 25 per cent.When White Fly attacked my 6.5 acres under cotton in 2015, I had to plough half of the crop back into the field, as it was 100 per cent damaged. Yields from the remaining crop, too, could not even cover my production costs. I pledged never to grow this crop again,” says Ravi Kant from Nihar Khera village in Khuian Sarwar tehsil of Fazilka district.This same farmer, however, intends to cultivate cotton on seven out of his 20-acre land in the coming season. He attributes this to the awareness campaign by experts from the Punjab Agricultural University and the agricultural departments of both Punjab and Haryana: “They taught us that there should be no wild vegetation around cotton fields. We were also told to monitor nearby kinnow plantations and vegetable fields, especially of baingan (brinjal), kaddoo (pumpkin) and palak (spinach), which harbour the pest.Sukhjeevan Singh from Ghaso Khana village of Bathinda’s Talwandi Sabo tehsil is another farmer, whose four-acre cotton crop was completely destroyed in 2015. He reduced the cotton area in his 18-acre holding to only 1.5 acres last year. But the 18 quintals kapas yield that he got from the 1.5 acres has led to his decision to grow cotton again on four acres this time.Rajwinder Singh from Bhai Bakhtaur in Maur tehsil of Bathinda estimates that 70 per cent of farmers in his village, which has about 2,000 acres of agricultural land, will return to cotton this year. They had all opted for paddy cultivation last year after the severe White Fly attack infestation of 2015. “Our area is better suited for cotton. We went to paddy out of sheer desperation and it was hardly remunerative,” he points out.According to Sukhdev Singh Sidhu, joint director of Punjab’s agriculture department, there has been concerted effort over the last one year to deploy “cotton scouts” to survey villages and keep regular vigilance on the pest. “This year, we have launched a weed eradication programme in the eight cotton belt districts. The idea is to root out any host plants on which the white flies flourish. The district collectors themselves are taking monthly reviews,” he adds.All this is also good news for Punjab’s ginning industry, which used to employ 40,000 people a decade ago. That number has since dropped to 5,000-6,000.Suresh Kumar Gupta, the owner of Punjab Spintex Limited, a Bathinda-based textile company and who also runs a ginning factory, says that he used to previously procure 60 per cent of his kapas requirement locally.But in the post-White Fly attack period, that proportion has fallen to 20 per cent.“I am now sourcing lint for my spinning (yarn-making) unit from Gujarat and Maharashtra, which costs me Rs 4 per kg more. But I have no option because there is not enough kapas, due to which my ginning factory’s lint production has declined from 15,000 kg to 5,000 kg daily,” he adds. That situation should improve at least a little this year.

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