- Cotton is an important cash crop in India. About 25% of the total global cotton production is produced in India. Recent data shows signs of decline in production and yields, which is a cause for concern for the sector.
About cotton crop
- Like coconut, cotton serves as a versatile resource, contributing to three major areas: food, feed and fiber.
- Soft, soft and durable fiber is obtained from the cultivation of cotton, which is widely used in the textile industry.
- In India, cotton occupies a paramount position as a cash crop, having a wide impact on both industrial and agricultural sectors.
- Cotton cultivation in India directly supports the livelihood of about 6 million farmers and indirectly supports a workforce of about 40-50 million people, through various allied activities such as trading and processing.
Cotton production and consumption in India
- Raw, unmilled cotton harvested by farmers contains about 36% white, hairy fiber or lint.
- The remaining components, consisting of 62% seed and 2% waste, are separated from the lint during the ginning process.
- Cotton seeds are a valuable source of oil, with 13% oil content used for culinary purposes such as cooking and frying.
- The residue left after oil extraction from the seeds, which is about 85%, after about 2% is lost during processing, forms a protein-rich feed component suitable for livestock and poultry.
Key facts of cotton production:
- Cotton is a Kharif crop with a maturity period of 6 to 8 months.
- It is a drought resistant crop suitable for dry climate.
- Cotton is grown on about 2.1% of the world’s arable land and meets 27% of global demand for clothing.
- Temperature ranging from 21°C to 30°C is suitable for cotton.
- Rainfall of about 50-100 cm is favorable for the growth of cotton.
- The ideal soil for cotton is well-drained black cotton soil, known as regur soil (for example, the soil found in the Deccan Plateau).
- Three primary products are obtained from cotton: fiber, oil, and animal feed.
- The top cotton producing country is India, followed by China and the United States.
- The major cotton producing states in India are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
- There are four cultivated species of cotton: Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum, and Gossypium barbadense.
- Gossypium arboreum and Gossypium herbaceum are called Old World cotton or Asian cotton.
- Gossypium hirsutum is known as American cotton or upland cotton, while Gossypium barbadense is identified as Egyptian cotton. Both of these are new cotton species.
- Hybrid cotton is created by cross breeding two parent strains with different genetic characteristics. Hybrids can arise naturally when open-pollinated plants cross-pollinate with related varieties.
- Bt cotton is a genetically modified insect-resistant variety of cotton.
- Cotton accounts for about two-thirds of India’s total textile fiber consumption in the textile industry.
- Cotton seed oil is the third largest domestically produced vegetable oil in the country after mustard and soybean. Additionally, it is also the second largest feed cake/meal source after soybean.
Development of bt cotton
- Bt cotton is a genetically modified cotton variety containing the Bt gene, designed to protect cotton plants from the devastating bollworm.
- Starting in 2002, Indian farmers adopted the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) cotton, which contained genes derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
- Over the period 2000–01 to 2013–14, cotton production in India witnessed significant growth, with lint production increasing almost three-fold from 140 lakh to 398 lakh bales, each weighing 170 kg.
- Concurrently, cotton seed oil and cake production also saw substantial growth, reaching about 1.5 million tonnes and 4.5 million tonnes, respectively.
- With the dominance of Bt hybrids in the cotton farming landscape, which covers up to 95% of the total cotton growing area, a significant increase in average per hectare lint yield was observed.
- Lint yield has more than doubled, from 278 kg per hectare in 2000–01 to 566 kg per hectare in 2013–14.
- In this context, however, recent data presents a different picture, showing a decline in both cotton production and yield in recent years.
Factors responsible for decline in crop yield:
- The decline in cotton crop yields can be mainly attributed to the presence of Pectinophora gossypiella, commonly known as pink bollworm (PBW). It was originally designed to protect Bt cotton from both Helicoverpa caterpillars and PBW, both of which infest cotton bolls where lint and seeds develop.
- Bt cotton has been effective against American bollworm, with unusually high survival rates of PBW larvae observed on cotton flowers about 60–70 days after cotton planting in Gujarat in 2014. Subsequently, in 2015, reports of PBW survival emerged from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. In 2021, for the first time there was heavy infestation of this insect in areas like Punjab, Haryana and North Rajasthan.
- Earlier, PBW was not considered a serious threat and it generally appeared in the later stages of production after the first harvest, mainly in central and southern India. But, PBW now starts appearing only 40-45 days after planting, which disrupts the flowering process in cotton.
- An important factor contributing to the Bt protein’s resistance to PBW is its monophagous nature, meaning it feeds primarily on cotton. It is of contrasting nature to the polyphagous Helicoverpa, which has a wide range of alternative products including pigeon pea, sorghum, maize, tomato, gram and cowpea.
- The continued cultivation of Bt cotton by farmers along with the decline of non-Bt cotton provided the potential for PBW populations to evolve resistance over time. As a result, resistant PBW variants gradually replaced susceptible variants, posing a significant challenge to cotton cultivation.
Efforts to combat insect infestation:
Traditional pesticide spraying:
- The traditional method of using insecticides for pest control has shown limited effectiveness in the management of pink bollworm (PBW) larvae. These larvae feed on cotton seed bolls, buds and flowers, negatively impacting lint quality and overall yield.
Reproductive intervention techniques
- An alternative approach involves employing a pheromone-based method, known as reproductive disruption technology. This technique uses Gossipler, a synthetic version of the pheromone released by female PBW moths to attract male counterparts. In this process, artificial pheromones are synthesized.
- The Central Pesticides Board and Registration Committee working under the Ministry of Agriculture has given its approval to Project Bandhan. This project represents a remarkable initiative that aims to promote an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system for cotton production. Under this, two reproductive disruption products, PBKnot and SPLAT, have been approved to effectively control PBW.
- The innovative PBKnot pheromone technology is user-friendly, cost-effective and environmentally friendly, providing a practical solution for PBW management. Additionally, SPLAT-PBW utilizes a flowable emulsion formulation to efficiently deliver the gossypler.
Government Initiative for Cotton Industry –
The Government of India has implemented several policy initiatives and programs aimed at supporting the cotton sector and encouraging cotton-spinning millers in the country. Following are some of the major government initiatives and schemes in this regard:
- Amended Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme (ATUFS): The Government has introduced ATUFS to facilitate modernization and upgradation of technology in the textile industry. The scheme provides financial incentives and assistance to textile manufacturers to adopt advanced machinery and technology.
- Market Access Initiative (MAI) Scheme: Under this scheme, the government provides rebate on state and central taxes and levies which are integrated into the production cost. It also helps exporters access international markets, thereby promoting cotton and textile exports.
- Samarth Yojana: Samarth Yojana, meaning ‘Scheme for Capacity Building in the Textile Sector’, aims to address the shortage of skilled workers in the textile industry. It aims to train 10 lakh (1 million) individuals and equip them with the necessary skills to contribute effectively to the sector.
- Mega Investment Textiles Park (MITRA): In the Union Budget 2021-22, the government launched the MITRA initiative. The program aims to set up seven textile parks over a period of three years, which will provide state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities for the textile and cotton industry.
- Efforts by Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI): Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI), a leading industry chamber of the textile sector, is actively involved in improving cotton production sustainably. CITI is working in 1700 villages in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, and collaborating with around 90,000 farmers to increase yield and cotton production through sustainable practices.
These government initiatives and collaborations are designed to promote the cotton sector, increase productivity and support cotton-spinning mills in India.
Integration of innovative technologies
- Although BT technology boosted cotton production in the early 2000s, producer profits have been reduced by the emergence of major pests, particularly pink bollworm (PBW). This pest has also discouraged farmers from cultivating cotton in states like Punjab. This underlines the importance of adopting new technologies, whether they are genetically modified (GM) approaches, next generation pesticides, or mating disruption techniques; To ensure continued cultivation of this versatile crop that provides fibre, food and feed.
Transitional Crop Practices:
- Cotton cropping system requires a gradual shift towards High Density Planting System (HDPS). HDPS represents an innovative approach that involves planting a greater number of plants per unit area. This is also supported by technological advances in weed control, leaf removal and mechanical harvesting.
- This new cropping system requires a complete shift from hybrids to diverse seeds. Currently, farmers follow traditional patterns and use bushy, long-duration hybrid cotton seeds, resulting in fewer plants per acre and a harvest period of 180 to 280 days.
Evidence-Based Policy Implementation:
- The prevailing government policy framework related to cotton should evolve towards progressive, evidence-based policies. These policies should include aspects such as seed pricing and protection of intellectual property rights. This includes protecting biotech traits under the Indian Patent Act and ensuring the rights of breeders and farmers under the Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Protection Act (PPVFRA).
- It is essential to strengthen the enforcement of intellectual property rights for new varieties suitable for HDPS while protecting farmers’ rights. Such measures can attract investment in research and development (R&D) and breeding of suitable genotypes for high-density planting.
Strengthening market linkages:
- It is necessary to increase market linkages to ensure better prices for the cotton produced by farmers. The government can facilitate this by setting up a strong procurement system for cotton, suitable mechanisms for price stabilization, grading and standardization of cotton.
Encouragement to Value Addition:
- Promoting value addition within the cotton sector can increase income levels and generate employment opportunities. This can encourage the production of cotton-based goods like textiles, apparel and home furnishings.
- The government’s focus should be on improving infrastructure in cotton growing areas. Building better roads, irrigation facilities and storage infrastructure can ease farmers’ access to markets, transportation of their produce and the ability to store cotton until favorable pricing conditions arise.
- Given the diverse applications of cotton in various fields, it exists as a paramount fiber crop in India. The declining production of cotton is a matter of significant concern, especially for the textile industry. Therefore, there is a need for immediate and concerted efforts from the government to address this serious issue.