Changing cotton landscape in the country
Cotton is the most important crop in Pakistan and livelihoods of millions of people (directly or indirectly) depend upon its successful cultivation and processing.
There has been considerable improvement during last few decades in increasing yield per unit of land and improving agronomic properties, especially fibre quality. However, both yield and fibre quality is still below intemational standards.
Biotechnology application in agriculture has emerged as a major technical innovation that promises to increase yields and improve quality. In Pakistan, Bt cotton was introduced through informal sector in 2002 as a means to reduce crop damage due to bollworms and consequently improve yields. This was a major step forward, but a number of factors have kept 8t from reaJising its full potential.
There exists a need for science based analysis of issues conceming cultivation of Bt cotton and suggesting ways and means of its sustained use in the years to come. In particular, an in-depth examination is warranted of the ways and means for Pakistan to move from the current position of lagging far behind other agricultural economies in the introduction of Bt technology to a position at par with rest of the world wherein it becomes possible for most cutting edge Bt technology to be introduced in Pakistan at the same time as it is done in the leading agricultural economies. Within this broad objective, following issues need to be probed specifically.
• Detailed examination of the prospects of resistance development in cotton bollwonns due to large scale cultivation of informal Bt cotton in Pakistan
Bt cotton presently occupies around 90% and 60% of cotton area in Sindh and Punjab respectively. In absence of any regulatory oversight, the level of toxin expression in many Bt varieties may be less than optimal. This may expedite the development of resistance in cotton bollworm against Cry toxins. Also, there is no concept of maintaining the 20% refugia as part of the resistance management strategy. Local experts, however, have discounted such fears on two grounds: 1) landholdings are fragmented and many different crops are planted side by side; and 2) double-gene products will be available in the market before resistance has developed. How serious is the threat of resistance build up and how valid are the arguments of local experts needs to be carefully examined. To be specific what are the chances of significant resistance build up happening before the minimum four to five years required for the availability of 'real' Bt technology, or can the current crop of Bt varieties disintegrate in that interim period?
• Comprehensive examination of the range of biotech products available from multinational organisatlons (other than Monsanto) for Pakistani cotton farmers
There is a general impression that Monsanto is the only company which has multiple products ready for Pakistani markets. Other companies (Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, Pioneer, etc) either do not have marketable products or are not vigorously exploring the Pakistani market. In either case, we need to carefully examine the range of (insect resistant in particular but also other) products on offer from alternate (i.e. non-Monsanto) sources, and how the access of Pakistani cotton farmers to these products can be increased.