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Cotton: Crying out for change

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March 02, 2023

Why in news?

Cotton farmers in Northern India suffered heavy losses in the last kharif season.

What are the reasons for less cotton productivity?

  • The cotton productivity estimate was reported to be at its lowest in the North zone comprising of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • North zone cotton, which recorded the highest cotton yield in 2019-20 is now down by over 30%.
  • Reasons – The losses are mounting due to the rising cost of cultivation, climate induced change in pest dynamics and rampant sale of unauthorised seeds and unchecked pesticides sprays.
  • Health & Environment – The boom and tractor mounted sprayers are back with unimaginable consequences on human health and environment.
  • Climate Change – 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.
  • Crop diseases – The white fly transmitted severe cotton leaf curl virus and sudden outbreak of para wilt have worsened the situation for North zone farmers.
  • Lack of infrastructure – The cotton sector seems to be dogged by some serious structural deficiencies.

What is the impact of low cotton productivity?

  • Imbalance in demand-supply – Cotton productivity, has continuously been decelerating, causing imbalance in demand-supply of cotton and uncertainty in the cotton textile industry.
  • Increase in imports – This dip in cotton production has forced the textile industry to rely on imports, which increased to 35.3 lakh bales worth ₹8,339.26 crore in 2018-19.
  • The relaxation in import duty structure would hit the balance of trade in cotton, which remained favourable over the last two decades.
  • Decrease in exports – On the other hand, cotton exports, which peaked in 2014-15, have since declined.

What are the strategies used to overcome the challenges?

  • HDPS – The cropping system of cotton must gradually undergo a systematic change to high density planting system (HDPS).

The HDPS is a new cropping system of accommodating more plants per unit area supported by technological inputs for weed management, defoliation and mechanical picking.

  • Dibbling – Our farmers practice dibbling based sowing of bushy-type, long duration hybrid cotton seeds at a large spacing accommodating fewer plants per acre.
  • The farmers harvest seed cotton 3-4 times in a season spanning 180 to 280 days in different cotton growing zones.
  • Hybrid Cotton – New erect type hybrid cotton genotypes have been introduced to optimise plant population.
  • However, but this forms just one-fourth of what is being practiced under HDPS in countries with high cotton yield.

What is the way forward?

  • Policies – The government-led policy paradigm on cotton must give way to progressive evidence-based policies on pricing of seeds and safeguarding intellectual property.
  • Intellectual Property Rights – 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.
  • Transfer of Seeds – Exchange of pre-breeding germplasm under material transfer agreement (MTA) and access and benefit sharing (ABS) mechanism for cross border material transfer must be prioritised.
  • Price Control – The 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.
  • This has also fuelled the growth of illegal market for herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton.



  1. The Hindu Business Line │ Cotton: Crying out for change
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