HOW do environmental changes affect the yield in Pakistan's cotton lands?
That is the question scientists are asking at the Cotton Research Institute (CRI) in Faisalabad, as a result of large-scale damage to this year's crop.
Experts say Pakistan's population growth rate of more than 3 percent annually is high enough to hinder agricultural growth by overstretching crucially needed farm resources, such as land and irrigation water.
There is also a looming question of environmental degradation. Scant rainfall in much of Pakistan this year, due to unexpected temperature rises and shortages of irrigation water, has only intensified problems for the farmers.
``Cotton is a very sensitive crop. Minor changes in the environment affect the production,'' says Waheed Sultan Khan, director of CRI. ``The night temperature has a great impact on cotton production.
``We have seen this year that night temperature was 3 to 4 centigrades higher as compared to previous years,'' Mr. Khan says.
Khan and his team of cotton experts are working to develop new varieties of cotton that would be more resistant to climatic changes.
The growing concern about environmental degradation causing crop damage is the latest addition to concerns about the affects of climatic changes. Questions remain about whether the oil-well fires in Kuwait during the Gulf war have affected the atmosphere, and if so, to what extent.
Few efforts have been made to scientifically establish a link, however. If the cotton scientists succeed in finding a connection, it may well be a first step toward setting the groundwork for scientific research in this area.