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2-Plants: Pakistanis hold out hope for new non-GE cotton hybrid



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TITLE:  FEATURE - Pakistanis hold out hope for new cotton hybrid
SOURCE: Reuters, by Tahir Ikram
DATE:   June 11, 2003

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FEATURE - Pakistanis hold out hope for new cotton hybrid

MULTAN, Pakistan - For years Pakistani scientists have attempted to produce
stronger and higher quality cotton by developing a hybrid plant.

But their efforts to support the world's fourth largest cotton producer have
been trumped by a determined Pakistani cotton breeder who says he has
succeeded in developing a new variety that promises to grow twice the cotton of a
normal plant.

Siddiq Akbar Bokhari's hybrid is the first recognised and approved by the
government, aware that Pakistan is struggling to meet domestic cotton demand
and is set to face increased overseas competition under the World Trade
Organisation.

The cotton and textile industry is a pillar of the economy, accounting for
60 percent of exports and providing jobs for 70 percent of the rural
population.

Investment has poured into the sector in recent years sparking expectations
domestic cotton demand would surge as much as 30 percent in the next five
years.

Bokhari says his plant, Alseemi H-151, produces not only extra long fibre,
but is stronger than conventional cotton produced in Pakistan.

"It is a very high strength, very fine cotton," said Bokhari, who has been a
cotton grower since 1977.

"It is a very, very ideal fine cotton, which can help our industry compete
very easily in the international market," he told Reuters in Multan,
Pakistan's cotton-growing capital.

Bokhari said Alseemi H-151 would yield 40 maunds (1,490 kg) per acre (0.405
hectare) against a usual average of 21 maunds.

But, the scarcity of seeds means production would be limited to a few
thousand bales next year and it will take several years to build up a stock of
seeds before large scale production can begin.

Bokhari says he wants to produce 100,000 bales (17,000 tonnes) of his hybrid
cotton by 2007, small compared with Pakistan's annual cotton output of more
than 10 million bales.

But at least the project is a step in the right direction, cotton executives
say.

"If it's true, it's really commendable," Mian Anjum Salim, chairman of All
Pakistan Textile Mills Association, told Reuters.

"If our cotton yield went up to 40 maunds, then our production could double.
We should try to do this on a commercial basis so that the industry
benefits. I think the government should actively support this endeavour."

Muhammad Islam Gill, director of the state-run Central Cotton Research
Institute in Multan, praised Bokhari's research.

"It is the first hybrid which has a high yield and very good quality," he
said.

Pakistan's cotton and textile industry will face stiff international
competition from 2005, when there will be a level playing field for all textile
producers under the World Trade Organisation.

"We don't have time to procrastinate. We have to compete," Bokhari said,
suggesting Pakistan could remain a major player provided it focused on improving
cotton yields and quality.

UNABLE TO MEET DEMAND

Industry executives said Pakistan is already unable to meet annual demand of
ginning factories, which spin thread from cotton, which is expected to soar
to 15 million bales by 2008.

"During the last three years massive investments were made in the textile
sector," Naseem Usman, a dealer at the Karachi Cotton Association, said.

"If the investment continues at the same pace, then local needs will
definitely be around 14 to 15 million bales in the next four to five years," he
said.

A government official said Pakistan's production target for the fiscal year
from July 1 was 10.55 million bales, compared with an expected output of
about 10.10 million bales this year.

The government expects domestic demand this fiscal year to reach 11.50
million bales and the industry argues that major steps are needed to boost
domestic production.

"Last year, Pakistan imported 1.2 million bales of cotton, most of it high
quality. During the current season 900,000 bales have already been imported
and I think that another 300,000 to 400,000 will be needed," Usman said.

A lot needs to be done to improve yields and quality, said Gill of the
Cotton Research Institute.

"From the time of picking until it reaches the ginning factories, there is a
lot of contamination," he said.

The cotton is further contaminated when transported in jute bags. Gill said
these had already been banned by the government but the order was not
strictly implemented across the country.

"There is a lot of scope to increase the yield per acre."



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