Pakistan is abandoning cotton for water-guzzling sugarcane

It is this saga of powerful sugar-mill owners, ensuing advantageous policies for cane and the impact of climate change that have together culminated in a decline in Pakistan’s cotton production. The issue has been compounded by a lack of investment in research and development for cotton, resulting in poor quality of crops, lower market prices and a stunting of industry growth.

If this continues, Pakistan stands to lose the enviable position of being the fifth-largest cotton producer in the world. Not only do cotton and its products contribute about 10% to the country’s gross domestic product, they account for 55pc of the foreign exchange earnings of the country. Of Pakistan’s total exports of $23.7 billion in 2018, the textile industry accounted for more than 50% at $13.53 billion.

The switch from cotton to sugarcane is evidenced by the change in farmed land for the two crops. While cotton-producing farmland has fallen by 12pc in the last five years, sugarcane has witnessed a near 40% increase in the last eight. Farmers were barely able to muster 9.86 million bales of cotton last year against the target of 14.4 million bales.

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