India is the world's second-largest producer of cotton, and the decline in production has the potential to affect global prices and trade dynamics. Cotton production 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, new tobacco streak virus disease and boll rot have recently threatened cotton farmers. The cotton-based textile industry has been significantly affected by various factors, including the increase in domestic market prices, hoarding, and trade-related developments resulting from the US ban on importing fashion and textile products from China's Xinjiang region. This ban has had a major impact on the industry, as many manufacturers in the region rely on raw cotton sourced from India. Furthermore, the textile manufacturing industry in Turkey has also been hit by an earthquake, exacerbating the situation. So, addressing the causes and implications of the decline in cotton production is crucial for policymakers, farmers, and consumers alike.
Issues with the Cotton Sector in India
- Pest Infestation: Cotton crops in India are prone to pest infestation, which can reduce the crop yield and quality. There are several reasons of pests infestation in cotton crops such as Lack of crop rotation, Monoculture, Weather conditions, Poor soil quality, Lack of pest management, etc.
- Low Productivity: India's cotton productivity per hectare is lower than that of other major cotton-producing countries. This is mainly due to the use of outdated farming practices, inadequate irrigation facilities, and poor seed quality.
- Lack of Irrigation: Irrigation is essential for cotton cultivation, but many cotton farmers in India lack access to adequate irrigation facilities.
- High Input Costs: The cost of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides is high in India, making it difficult for small-scale cotton farmers to afford them.
- Dependence on Monsoon: India's cotton crop is largely dependent on the monsoon rains, which can be unpredictable and erratic, leading to crop failure.
- Farmer Debt: Many cotton farmers in India are burdened with debt, which can lead to a cycle of poverty and indebtedness. Cotton sustains the livelihood of an estimated 5.8 million farmers, with another 40-50 million people engaged in related activities such as cotton processing and trade. Families, especially women and children, are often forced to engage in exploitative forms of work for survival. Farmer suicides triggered by the mounting debt burden in cotton growing areas have also been witnessed.
- Lack of Market Access: Many cotton farmers in India have limited access to markets and are forced to sell their produce at low prices to middlemen.
What should be the Way Forward?
- Changing Cropping System: The cropping system of cotton must gradually undergo a systematic change to High Density Planting System (HDPS). HDPS 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. Farmers currently sow bushy, long duration hybrid cotton seeds in dibbling patterns at a large spacing accommodating fewer plants per acre and harvest seed cotton three to four times in a season spanning 180 to 280 days.
- Implementing Evidence-based Policies: The government-led policy paradigm on cotton must give way to progressive evidence-based policies on pricing of seeds and safeguarding intellectual property, not only for biotech traits under Indian Patent Act but also ensuring the rights of breeders and farmers under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA). Enforcement of IPR on new varieties suitable for HDPS while ensuring farmers’ rights must be strengthened to attract investment in R&D and breeding of high-density suitable genotypes.
- Strengthening Market Linkages: Strengthening market linkages can help farmers get a better price for their cotton. The government can set up a robust procurement system for cotton, create price stabilization funds, and establish cotton grading and standardization mechanisms.
- Increasing Value Addition: Encouraging value addition in the cotton sector can help increase income and create employment opportunities. This can be done by promoting the production of cotton-based products such as textiles, clothing, and home furnishings.
- Enhancing Research and Development: Investing in research and development can help develop new cotton varieties, improve pest management practices, and develop innovative technologies to improve cotton farming.
- Improving Infrastructure: The government can improve the infrastructure in cotton-growing areas by building roads, irrigation facilities, and storage facilities. This can help farmers access markets, transport their produce, and store their cotton until prices are favorable.