India is the world’s second-largest producer of cotton in the world. Cotton cultivation has been a critical component of India’s agricultural economy for centuries. However, in recent years, the country has experienced a significant decline in cotton production, causing concerns about the sustainability of the industry and its impact on the economy. The reasons for this decline are complex, with factors ranging from weather conditions to government policies and market forces. Climate change induced weather aberration, widespread infestation of boll devouring pink bollworm and boll rot have recently threatened cotton farmers.
Declining cotton productivity is threatening the income and livelihood of farmers in vast stretches of North zone which has a favorable cotton-wheat cropping system. The cotton productivity estimate was reported to be at its lowest in the North zone comprising of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan at 518.4 kg lint per hectare. North zone cotton, which recorded the highest cotton yield at 678.3 kg lint per hectare in 2019-20 is now down by over 30 per cent. According to the Agriculture Ministry’s second advance estimates, cotton output is estimated at 322 lakh bales (of 170 kg each), down by 48 lakh bales from the target of 370 lakh bales in 2022-23. Cotton productivity, which peaked at 566 kg lint per hectare in 2013-14, has continuously been decelerating since then, causing imbalance in demand-supply of cotton and uncertainty in the cotton textile industry.
The cotton sector seems to be dogged by some serious structural deficiencies. First, the cropping system of cotton must gradually undergo a systematic change to high density planting system (HDPS), which is a new cropping system of accommodating more plants per unit area supported by technological inputs for weed management, defoliation and mechanical picking. The new cropping system requires an entirely new plant type, shifting from hybrid to varietal seeds coupled with new age technologies for machine sowing, weed management, defoliation and mechanical picking. HDPS cotton must be brought in soon which requires a coherent approach driven by robust public-private partnership. The unending price control of cotton seeds under the Cotton Seed Price (Control) Order, 2015 has discouraged breeding activities and stalled introduction of much needed technologies for weed management and fueled the growth of illegal market for herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton.
The 2023-24 Budget, expected to launch the Technology Mission on Cotton 2.0,
announced a minor sop for enhancing the productivity of specialty extra-long staple cotton (ELS) by promoting a cluster-based and value chain approach through public-private partnerships (PPP). India is traditionally deficit in ELS cotton production and the textile industry imports around one million bales annually.
Some of the policy challenges that impact production, profitability and
sustainability of Cotton crop cultivation in India are as follows:
- Inadequate access to credit and insurance: Farmers often struggle to access affordable credit and insurance facilities for cotton cultivation. Limited credit availability hampers their ability to invest in quality inputs, modern machinery, and irrigation facilities.
- Price fluctuations and minimum support prices (MSP): Cotton prices are
subject to significant fluctuations, which can adversely affect farmer’s; income and profitability. The government’s minimum support prices (MSP) for cotton aim to provide a safety net for farmers, but their effectiveness and implementation can vary across regions, leading to market distortions and price uncertainties.
- Inefficient procurement and marketing systems: Improved infrastructure and streamlined procurement mechanisms are needed to ensure fair prices and timely payments to cotton farmers.
- Pest and disease management: Cotton crops in India are vulnerable to various pests and diseases, such as bollworm infestations and cotton leaf curl virus. Ineffective policies and inadequate support for integrated pest management practices can result in increased pesticide usage, leading to environmental and health concerns.
- Water management and irrigation: Cotton is a water-intensive crop, and its cultivation can put pressure on scarce water resources, especially in regions with limited irrigation facilities. Policies focusing on promoting efficient irrigation practices, water conservation, and sustainable water management are crucial to address this challenge.
- Access to quality seeds and technology: Access to high-quality and genetically improved cotton seeds is crucial for enhancing productivity and resilience against pests and diseases. Policies that promote research and development, seed quality control, and the dissemination of improved technologies can play a significant role in improving cotton cultivation practices.
- Land fragmentation issues: Fragmented land holdings limit economies of scale and hinder the adoption of modern farming practices.
- Environmental sustainability: Cotton cultivation relies heavily on chemical inputs, including pesticides and fertilizers, which can have negative environmental impacts. Policies promoting sustainable agricultural practices, organic farming, and the adoption of eco-friendly technologies can contribute to reducing environmental harm associated with cotton cultivation.
Addressing the above policy challenges requires a comprehensive approach
involving government initiatives, stakeholder collaboration, and the integration of sustainable agricultural practices. It is crucial to create an enabling policy environment that supports cotton farmers, ensures fair prices, enhances productivity, promotes sustainability, and improves the overall livelihoods of those engaged in cotton cultivation.
- Cotton: Crying out for change – https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/cotton-
- Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.
- Constraints to cotton production in India, Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur