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Protecting Pakistan’s cotton farmers

Jun 04,2017

ICARDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are supporting Pakistan’s efforts to tackle cotton leaf curl virus – strengthening research efforts and developing cotton varieties that are resistant to the disease.

Cotton is a major contributor to Pakistan’s economy, but yields are often threatened by the virus which can cause losses of up to 20-40 percent. An ICARDA-managed initiative supported by USDA – ‘Improving resistance to CLCuV disease and supporting cotton best management practices for small farmers’ – combines capacity strengthening with new agronomic practices to protect cotton farmers.

The project provides farming training through farmer field schools and introduces proven management techniques like sowing cotton in standing wheat. Research suggests that standing wheat stubble stores more winter rainfall, which reduces evaporation compared to bare soil surface, and that crop rotation can reduce the use of herbicide, meaning that it can be applied on a needs basis much later in the season.

The achievements of the project, which ends in June 2017, and future prospects were discussed at a meeting held in Islamabad on 15-18 May. Speaking at the meeting, Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, stressed the importance of cotton production, commenting that the sector supports hundreds of thousands of rural jobs and that cotton itself contributes about 57% to Pakistan’s exports and is the source of 65% of the country’s indigenous edible oil.

To improve efficiency, the project united four federal and three provincial research institutions under one umbrella, and USDA provided some 5,000 accessions of germplasm to collaborating institutes for screening against CLCuV. Local cotton breeders are now utilizing this germplasm to develop virus-resistant cotton varieties.

Given that CLCuV is a global threat, learning from the project will be applied to fight the virus in other affected countries.