As the fourth largest cotton producer worldwide, cotton is an integral part of Pakistan’s economy contributing 9.5% of its gross domestic and serving as a core livelihood for 15 million cotton workers. In addition to bringing US$3.5 billion as foreign currency each year to the country, it provides crucial income to cotton-producing households, accounting for nearly, 40% of the household income for landowners, and almost 45% of the household income for sharecroppers (tenant farmers who give a part of each crop for rent).
However, the cotton crop in Pakistan is under threat. Insect-pest attack, climate change and acute water shortages have placed immense pressures on farmers, and there has been a growing appeal for farmers to grow other cash crops instead, such as sugarcane.
With these problems affecting cotton farmers in Pakistan, some believe that organic cotton is a more sustainable option. With increasing impacts of climate change, avoiding fossil fuel-based fertilisers and saving precious water resources by growing in areas with naturally high rainfall reduces the impact on the environment. It also reduces the use of hazardous synthetic pesticides, and allows farmers to safely grow food crops next to their cotton.
Rising organic cotton demands from the USA, Europe, the UK, and other high-end apparel markets have also sent a strong message to Pakistan and other developing countries, that if they are able to make changes at policy and field level they will be able to reap significant financial rewards.
However, certified organic cotton accounts for under 1% of global cotton cultivation. In Pakistan, a lack of policies, unavailability of pure non-genetically modified organism (GMO) seed and ineffective links with input suppliers and supply chains creates barriers between farmers and the opportunity to grow organic cotton, reducing interest in the crop.
Under the Cotton Advocacy for Policy and Seed (CAPAS) project, funded by the Laudes Foundation, CABI and 25 cotton stakeholders (including the Ministry of Agriculture and local government ministries, research institutes and farmer organisations, and others) conducted a National Organic Cotton Policy GAP Analysis focused on Balochistan, the first province to harvest organic cotton in Pakistan. They looked at gaps in existing policies, documents, and regulatory frameworks, and suggested new policies needed to scale-up organic cotton production.
A working paper on the subject has now been published. The analysis found that producing profitable organic cotton does interest farmers, but that they need more government support in the provision of an organic agriculture loan facility, increased availability of bio-inputs and provision of an organic cotton premium. The analysis came up with the following recommendations:
1. Creation of a seed multiplication system
A lack of access to organic cotton seed is an important barrier that is restricting farmers from growing organic cotton. To counter this problem, organic cotton seed multiplication programmes need to be established to increase the access of organic seed varieties to farmers. There should also be a focus on immediate, medium-term, and long-term approaches that also engage research institutes, seed companies, the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department (FSC&RD) and farming communities.
2. Seed quality assurance
Contamination of seed samples in research institutes, where GMO cotton seeds were discovered among non-GMO seeds, was found to be another major problem. To combat this, there needs to be a seed quality assurance system implemented along the whole cotton seed supply chain to ensure that non-GMO seed is available. This is not possible without engaging with organic cotton farming communities to identify their needs and look for viable ways forward.
3. National certification and laboratory testing system
There are a number of scenarios where accidental contamination between GMO and non-GMO seeds could occur at any point along the supply chain such as when the seeds are in transit, or cross-contamination from pesticides from neighbouring non-organic farms. To address this, free laboratory testing facilities for cotton seed and organic cotton samples of farmer’s fields should be established, along with a national organic certification system for organic cotton textile products.
4. Private sector engagement
For the organic cotton supply chain to flourish, the private sector needs to be fully on board to help all elements of the fledgling industry to emerge. Recent amendments to Pakistan’s laws have enabled private seed companies to develop their own organic cotton variants with more freedom and legal security to protect the development of new biotechnology. The opportunity to engage with these new investors should not be missed.
5. Access to a credit facility
Farmers seeking a loan from commercial banks are restricted by legal formalities, while a recent baseline study of CABI’s CAPAS project showed that more than 90% of farmers are illiterate and so struggle to deal with bank formalities to access agricultural loans. In addition, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), as the central bank of Pakistan, has regulations that are conducive for all commercial banks operating in the country regarding how they offer agriculture loans to farming communities. By setting up a credit facility, the SBP could create an enabling environment for organic cotton farmers, facilitating finance for options such as agricultural machinery which could help support the long-term sustainability of their businesses.
6. Capacity building programme
Seed certification in Pakistan is mainly the responsibility of FSC&RD, which suffers from a shortage of staff and lacks capacity for seed testing. The FSC&RD, alongside other cotton institutes in the country engaged in cotton research and development, need to create capacity building programmes for organic cotton seed development and the production of biological inputs.
There are clearly many obstacles to the development of a sustainable organic cotton infrastructure in Pakistan, but CABI’s analysis found that Pakistan can benefit from an increasing demand for organic cotton if firm interventions are put in place. The government, on its part, is keen to implement a long-term plan to boost organic cotton production, establish an organic textile supply chain, develop high-yielding seed varieties, and enable farmers to get good quality inputs, credit and fair prices for their produce. A strong desire among organic cotton farmers and a firm commitment from the government to invest and engage could be enough to give the industry the kickstart that needs to become a sustainable and long-term option for farmers in Pakistan.
Main image: From left to right Lakshmi, Mangi and Bharti sort cotton on a farm during a harvest in village Khudabad Chandia, UC Hala, district Matiari of Sind province in Pakistan (Credit: ©️Asim Hafeez for CABI)
To read the working paper in full, visit Pakistan National Organic Cotton Policy GAP Analysis.
For more information about the connected project to this working paper, and the partners involved, visit ‘Promoting sustainable organic cotton production and supply in Pakistan.’
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