Pakistan has a great potential to produce organic cotton for earning foreign exchange and protect soil health and biodiversity through adopting regenerative agriculture

The 2nd Annual SAWiE Conference on Organic Cotton Pakistan took place online on 31 Augusts. Themed around knowledge dissemination and best practices sharing, the conference attracted a diverse audience including policy makers, industry experts, farmers, and researchers. It sought to bridge gaps and promote collaboration across the organic cotton value chain, fostering a holistic approach.

This was a collaborative effort between SAWiE and the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC), serving as a pivotal platform for stakeholders to congregate and exchange insights on the organic cotton sector. The event was inaugurated by Dr Khalid Mahmood from SAWIE and Prof Rana Iqrar Khan, Vice Chancellor University of Agriculture Faisalabad. He emphasized the need to improve soil health through improving organic matter. Dr. Tassawar Hussain, Secretary PCCC appreciated  the efforts of key players especially WWF and Balochistan agriculture department for promotion of Organic cotton in Pakistan and offered all possible support for its growth.  Dr. Yusuf Zafar, former Chairman of PARC and CABI, highlighted the importance of working in a close cooperation among all players including industry and research to work together to propel Pakistan’s organic cotton industry toward sustainable growth. Mr Asif Mehmood, from Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) congratulated the participants that Pakistan is now seen on the international map of Organic cotton production.

Dr Shahid Mansoor, advisor ICCBS Karachi, highlighted the importance of developing non-GMO seed varieties that can grow under less water and less nutrients.

The conference had key breakout sessions covering Organic-Non GMO seed, Bio inputs, Regenerative agriculture, digital agriculture, traceability & certification and marketing to improve farmers income led by the key industry players and researchers.

Hafiz Muhammad Bux, head of Organic cotton wwf Pakistan, said, “It is very inspirational that SAWiE is proactively providing a platform to discuss organic cotton related key factors to be considered on serious grounds and build synergies to combat existing challenges to organic cotton value chain”.

Dr Ghulam Ali, chairman PARC, emphasized the need for developing local standards and certification for organic cotton meeting international standards. He also highlighted the need to develop new Organic cotton clusters including Barani Tract, Cholistan, Layyah and Bhakkar, and in KPK areas around DI khan, etc.

The conference showcased the significance of branding “Organic Cotton – Made in Pakistan” to enhance international recognition and foreign exchange earnings. With four breakout sessions, discussions spanned from policy-making and regenerative agriculture to digital agri solutions and market opportunities. This conference was a potent catalyst for the organic cotton sector’s growth.

The leading players in the organic cotton sector are taking part that includes the farmers groups, the Textile industry, APTMA, Pakistan central cotton committee (PCCC), central cotton research institute (CCRI),Pakistan Agriculture Research Center (PARC) Agriculture departments of Balochistan & Punjab, WWF, Organic Cotton Accelerator, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, MNSUA Multan, PMAS university, Sindh Agriculture University, UET Khuzdar,  Center of Excellence & Molecular Biology, Punjab University, NIAB, NIBGE, BZU Multan, Islamia  university Bahawalpur, etc.

One of the key takeaways was the commitment displayed by the participants, especially the policy makers, in crafting a conducive ecosystem for organic cotton growth. Mr. Saqib Ateel, Secretary Agri South, extolled SAWiE for facilitating information dissemination in platforms like this conference which helps bridge the gap between knowledge and practice. He acknowledged that the conventional agricultural practices in the country need an overhaul, underlining the critical importance of soil management.

Stressing the need to transition from degrading soils to fertile ones, Mr. Ateel urged the audience to consider the legacy they are leaving for the upcoming generations – “a future with either fertile soil or barren dirt”. This choice encapsulated the essence of sustainability, reflecting the idea that maintaining, reviving, and focusing on soil health are paramount for a better tomorrow. He envisioned a future where the country’s organic cotton not only progresses but also garners recognition and credibility, enabling it to penetrate global markets and flourish.

The importance of the cotton crop is due to its unique offer to meet the food, feed, fiber (3 Fs), and energy needs of human beings.  Pakistan is 5th largest producer of cotton at the global level however, the cotton area and production in Pakistan have been either stagnant or on a declining trajectory for the last 3 decades.  The decline in conventional cotton production is proving a blessing in disguise for the promotion of organic cotton (OC) in Pakistan. The prerequisite of organic cotton is non-GMO seeds and the use of bio inputs only.

Globally, less than 1% of cotton grown is organic.. The global organic cotton market size was US$ 637 million in 2021. The market is projected to grow to US$ 6,730.9 million by 2028 at a CAGR of 40.0% in the 2021-2028 period.

Although this is a great opportunity for Pakistan, the complex processes of obtaining certification of OC and sustainability in growth is a challenge. Pakistan joined the Organic cotton producing countries in 2019 through the support of international development partners.

There are vast uncultivable areas ( virgin land) in Pakistan especially in Balochistan that could be developed as an Organic hub of Pakistan without compromising conventional cotton farming. Organic cotton production initiatives have been initiated in Balochistan. All major players including government departments, non-profit organizations, donor agencies, farmers and farmer organizations, leading textile brands, and cotton apparel consumers of high-end international markets are supportive of building an organic cotton production system in Pakistan. Remarkable success was achieved. There is a strong need to consolidate these efforts and expand the area/production of organic cotton in an efficient and effective manner. The Government of Pakistan in its policy document of national food security policy of 2018 committed to pursue organic agriculture, its certification, and establishment of accreditation facilities in specific regions.

Dr. Yusuf Zafar, the former Chairman of PARC and CABI, brought his substantial experience to the fore, highlighting Pakistan’s immense potential in the organic cotton sector. Citing the findings of a Textile Exchange report, he emphasized that Pakistan has the capacity to achieve a staggering 405% growth in organic cotton production. This numerical potential, however, needs to be translated into actionable initiatives. Dr. Zafar stressed the need for synergy among all stakeholders to harness this potential.

He further articulated that Pakistan is on the cusp of creating standards and certifications that align with organic cotton production. This, he posited, marks a pivotal moment in the sector’s journey, as the country aligns its practices with global standards, reinforcing the credibility of its organic produce.

Prof. Asif Ali, Vice-Chancellor of MNSUA, exhibited unwavering institutional commitment. He pledged wholehearted cooperation to further the organic cotton sector’s growth. His dedication underscored academia’s critical role in the organic cotton movement, aligning with the overarching theme of collaboration for a sustainable agricultural future.

The progressive farmer Mumtaz Manis said, we need to reduce the use of pesticides and improve IPM practices to control pests and diseases.

Mr Assad Bajwa, CEO Asian Cotton sourcing spoke about the potential of organic production to target high end markets of europe and north america. Dr Asma Imran, a lead scientist from NIBGE discussed the importance of developing soil improvement bacteria.

Dr Javed Hassan, Advisor APTMA suggested developing organic cotton zones and also a specialist research institute focussing on organic cotton production.

With expert insights, dedication, and a shared vision, the Organic Cotton Conference Pakistan proved to be an essential catalyst for the organic cotton sector’s growth in the country. The conference exemplified the power of collaboration, underlining the significance of partnerships, knowledge-sharing, and collective effort in steering Pakistan’s agricultural landscape toward sustainability and prosperity.