Cotton is Pakistan’s largest industrial sector and is a principle cash crop to millions of smallholder farmers who rely upon it to earn their livelihoods.
However, per acre yield and the profitability of the crop is dependent upon the quality of the sown seed as part of the principles of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and proper crop management. Indeed, it is a sobering thought that the industry is losing between 10 to 15 percent of its value (around $350 million a year) through poor production, transport and storage practices.
Part of the problem stems from the poor selection of healthy seed with a high germination ratio. Usually in Pakistan, seed is available in local markets which are not properly checked by the agriculture department as well as by farmers for quality and germination before sowing. To break this mindset, CABI is trying to train farmers to follow a more scientific way, bringing about a change in their routine agricultural practices and adopting a better way to grow cotton.
Mubarak Ali is a smallholder cotton farmer who was grateful to learn more about the benefits of a seed germination test during a CABI-led training session, based upon the Better Cotton Standard System, entitled ‘Pre-sowing Planning for Cotton Crop.’
Mr Ali said, “The training put special focus on seed quality, physical seed test and seed germination checking.” He added that the training was remarkable for him because he has been involved in cropping for more than 15 years but had never paid attention to such simple skills.
He further explained that he and his friends usually purchase seeds of cotton from a local vendor and put all their trust on the agro dealer, brand and its credibility in market. He commented that when they sow the seed it sometimes performs very well but often did not germinate well at all. He said that this translates to a farmer, who loses 1 acre’s germination, facing a financial deficit of 20000-25000 PKR.
Mr Ali said, “I received training from CABI’s field staff that helped me check the seed in two ways followed by a pre-sowing germination test.
“At the time of buying the seed I took 100 out from each bag and randomly selected 10 seeds to check the embryo. The field facilitators told me that this is an easy and convenient way of checking how healthy the seed is.
“I tested the germination ratio by placing 100 randomly selected seeds from the bag and placed these in layers in a jute bag which was then put under shade. I soaked with water twice a day and observed the germination. It gave me confidence to decide about the seed rate to cultivate the recommended plant population.”
Mr Ali said he found this way for testing seed health and germination very convenient and economical. By applying this technique he was able to reject five bags of cotton seed as they were not meeting the necessary standards. He vows to apply it in every season for each crop and will suggest other farmers also get help from this technique.
Rauf Laghari, CABI’s Better Cotton Initiative Project Manager, said, “Sowing the seed without knowing its germination ratio not only poses a risk for less germination but also total failure of the crop. In case of less germination the appropriate time for re-sowing is missed and the yield can be reduced to 320-400 Kgs per acre. CABI is playing its role by developing the capacity of small holders to produce more and lose less.”
Find out more about how CABI has been helping cotton farmers in Pakistan lose less of their crops due to poor production, transportation and storage practices as part of a project closely linked with the Better Cotton Initiative. See the project page for details.