In the Covid-19 pandemic year, the cotton value-chain, like others, has faced unprecedented disruptions. The optimism for a revival is now driven by resilient markets accompanied by sustainable cultivation. Bruce Atherley, Executive Director, Cotton Council International (CCI), US, shares key insights on post-covid global recovery in cotton value-chain in an interview with BusinessLine . Excerpts:

As the world copes up with Covid-19, how do you see cotton value-chain recovering across the world?

During the beginning of last year, the mill consumption of cotton dropped by 15 per cent in 2019-20 from 120 million bales (480 lb bale) to 102 million bales. In 2020-21, the cotton consumption is expected to reach 114 million bales, up 13 per cent over the previous year. The cotton textiles supply chain in India has shown resilience, as the cotton consumption in the country in 2021 is expected to reach 24 million bales which is at par with pre-Covid consumption levels. Even China, the largest cotton consumer, is expected to increase its mill consumption from 33 million bales in 2020 to 38 million bales in 2021.

Do you see any impact on cotton cultivation around the world?

The global acreage for cotton has been fairly constant since the last few years. For 2021, the global cotton acreage is projected to be 32.63 million hectares (mh) as compared to 34.83 mh in 2019-20. In the US, we are expecting the acreage to reduce to 3.6 mh in 2020-21 as compared to 4.70 mh in 20190-20 crop year.

For India, there are no major changes being observed, as cotton acreage for 2020-21 is expected to be 13.40 mh, similar to 2019-20. Pakistan is expected to have a sharp reduction in cotton production in 2020-21.

How significant is the role of sustainable fiber to ensure better yield and cost-effective cultivation?

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, sustainability is one of the key focus areas among the brands, retailers and consumers. While there has been a shift in consumers’ choices for more sustainable products, the brands and retailers are becoming increasingly sensitive in choosing sustainable fibers to drive their textile supply chains.

For the past 35 years, US cotton production used less water per bale, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduced energy consumption, all while reducing land use per bale. Minimal tillage, GPS and sensor-driven precision agriculture and the growing of winter cover crops are the practices adopted for improved soil health, reducing loss and erosion and increasing soil carbon levels.

The 16,000 cotton farms in the US have been committed to continuous improvement for decades.

Which variety of cotton do you see gaining more traction from production cost and market perspective?

There are two main species of cotton for commercial use - Upland (Gossypium Hirsutum) cotton and extra-long staple Pima (Gossypium Barbadense) cotton. The key difference is fiber length and strength. Globally, consumers demand for cotton fiber in last 10 years has increased by 4 per cent with a CAGR of 0.4 per cent.

This growth is mainly attributed to increased production and consumption of Upland cotton variety, while consumption of extra-long staple fiber has been consistent all these years. Moreover, Covid-19 has triggered consumer spending towards essential sales compared to luxury/expensive textile products.