Cotton is one of the most important commercial crops cultivated in India. India is the second largest cotton producer, but the cultivators are marred by several problems.
What are the problems?
1. Rising cost of production of seeds, fertilizers, labour i.e input costs is an issue. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) offered to cotton is far below the one required to optimally cover the high input costs. GM companies sell expensive cotton seeds and fertilisers.These have been major causes for unmanageable debts on farmers leading to suicides.
2. There is decreasing and stagnant yields with deteriorating quality and productivity of soil due to incessant use of pesticides and pests that are becoming increasingly resistant to chemical dosage.
3. Inability to manage water resources effectively and depleting groundwater resources. More than 35% of the areas under cotton cultivation is rain-fed with poor irrigation facilities, exposing production to monsoon fluctuations.
4. Absence of modern technology in cultivation as well as ginning has affected the yield which is not only low but also contaminated.Cotton is vulnerable to contamination at the harvesting, marketing and ginning stages, if proper care is not taken.
Due to deterioration in genetic purity of cotton varieties and hybrid seeds and with inconsistencies in the admixtures of the cotton fibre, it becomes difficult to assess the quality of cotton, especially by export firms who focus heavily on the quality consistency. There is also competition from artificial fibres, which have a lower cost of production and display higher consistency.
5. Fluctuating market prices for cotton and inability to compete in global markets that reflect low prices due to significantly large subsidy to cotton farmers by western countries. Also, It has been difficult to develop a globally-competitive cotton industry in India because of the average quality of cotton that is produced.
6. Among nations growing cotton, cotton picking is completely manual in India.Not many varieties of cotton produced are available for mechanised plucking. Mechanised picking is better than hand-picking since the latter can lead to contamination. However, the most important thing to be done before mechanised picking is to defoliate the plant. No appropriate defoliant is available in India. Cost of picking cotton from the farm has increased. When manually plucked, farmers do it twice/thrice. But, mechanised plucking can be done only once. Will our farmers forego the extra picking, ergo the extra money they earn on picking for quality?
7. Lack of participation of the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) in the procurement has affected the interests of cotton growers. Farmers are in distress because of lack of bulk purchase and procurement by unregistered traders. This is impacting on both the APMC and the farmers. The lack of demand for cotton yarn has been mainly due to changes in Chinese government’s insistence that local mills use more of home-grown cotton. The government’s decision to do away with cotton yarn export benefits under the focus market scheme, to reduce our dependence on China and explore new markets, has also hit exports. Domestically, cotton faces competition from synthetic yarn which is much cheaper and can be imported at lower prices.
What is the approach of the government ?
Government policy with regard to cotton is reflected in the following:
1. Technology Mission on Cotton (2000), with the primary objective of improving production, productivity and quality of cotton in India.
2. National Textile Policy (2000) which aims to increase cotton productivity and upgrade its quality to international standards, through effective implementation of the Technology Mission on Cotton, liberalise and encourage export of cotton yarn
3. Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme- TUFS(launched in 1999 extended upto 2012, pending for further renewal)through finanacial assistance sought to modernise the textile industry and to increase its competitiveness in domestic as well as international markets. They can avail loans at concessional rates.
4. Draft National Fibre Policy has the objective of enhancing production, competitiveness, improving irrigation facilities etc.
4. By increasing the Minimum Support Price, government has ensured that the farmer gets minimal returns atleast due to depressed market conditions.
5. This year, the Centre has directed the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) to start procuring cotton if prices fall below the MSP. CCI has opened 300 centers for market intervention and also started organizing storage capacities. The Gujarat government has recently announced a Rs. 1,100 crore to waive half of the power bills and interest on agriculture loans. The Karnataka government is planning to introduce a Karnataka Cotton Bill which makes seed companies liable for compensation in case of crop failure or supply of spurious Bt-cotton seeds.
What are the steps that need to be taken to improve ?
1. Improving irrigation facilities and water harnessing was considered imperative for enhancing production and lowering its dependence on monsoon. drip irrigation system could be adopted for better water management.
2. Initiatives should be taken to increase awareness among farmers for adoption of rain water harvesting, soil moisture conservation techniques, suitable agronomic practices in order to increase the utilisation of rain water.New farming practices like precision farming should also be encouraged to increase productivity.
3. Steps could be taken to improve logistics for transporting cotton, so that cotton fibre can be supplied from surplus to deficient areas in a clean manner, and it does not get contaminated.
4. Returns on cotton fibre can be enhanced through backward integration of the cotton value chain. The cotton industry can adopt the example of the sugar industry through such activities as de-linting and use of cotton stalks, which present great opportunity with minimal investments.
5. Higher trade tariffs on import on synthetic yarn may also be implemented as well as ensuring that easier lines of credit from banks are available for farmers.
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