The widespread adoption of biotech cotton in Pakistan is expected to reduce the usage of insecticides sprays, exposure of farm laborers to insecticides, ensure higher quality of cotton and improved returns as well as overall gains to the rural economy.
Compared to other countries such as India that have derived significant yield benefits from Bt cotton, Pakistan has had to contend with significant threats such as cotton leaf curl virus.
This was disclosed in Brief 42 of Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops:2010 released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on Saturday.
The brief illustrates that in recent years, cotton leaf diseases particularly cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV) has become a major threat to cotton production and has rapidly spread in Punjab and Sindh. The epidemic of cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV) has significantly hurt cotton production in 1994-95 and again in 2003-04 with moderate damage to yield in other years.
Insect pests and diseases of cotton cause substantial losses in Pakistan, and there are mainly two types of insect pests; chewing and sucking pests which significantly damage the standing crop.
Major chewing pests include insects like the bollworm complex including the American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), spotted bollworm (Erias vitella), pink bollworm (Pectinophora gosspiella) and army worms (Spodoptera sps).
Sucking pests include the whitefly, cotton jassids, thrips, mites and aphids, the report said, adding that a sufficient number of insecticide sprays can effectively control sucking pests that continue to devastate cotton crop resulting in significant losses and lower production of cotton as well as deteriorating cotton quality.
Cotton farmers have to resort to frequent insecticide applications to control insect pests and diseases. On average, five to eight insecticide applications are required to control the bollworm complex depending on the infestation levels.
At the national level, cotton farmers spend approximately $250 million annually on insecticides, of which $190 million of insecticides are for bollworm control alone, the Brief cited Pakistan Industry Estimates of 2010. Research studies by the National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) suggest that the constant increase in application of pesticides has escalated production costs and contributed to environmental and public health problems as well as the development of resistance in insect pests to frequently used insecticides.
The brief quoted a farmer Niaz Nizamani from Tando Allahyar, Sindh as saying “Bt cotton is a total revolution in the field of agriculture. We get very good yields per hectare along with good quality.”
He added that “CLCV virus is a major problem faced by the cotton farmers of Pakistan, and currently available Bt seed varieties are not able to solve the problem. Still, we are in need of some better quality seeds to overcome the CLCV problem which is affecting our crops and cutting our productivity to half.”
It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan is the fourth largest cotton producer in the world after China, India and USA, where farmers plant cotton on 2.8 to 3.2 million hectares with an average farm holding of approximately four hectares.
Thus there are around 750,000 cotton farmers in the country. Both Punjab and Sindh farmers mainly grow open pollinated varieties (OPVs) of cotton with almost universal irrigation facility throughout the cotton season.