Despite a rise in area, cotton yield drops below 500 kg per hectare in India

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on July 30, 2021

Productivity is low as no new technology has been introduced since 2006, say, industry officials, scientists.


Over the last three years, the yield per hectare of Indian cotton has dropped below 500 kg per hectare despite a rise in the area under the fibre crop.

Data from the Committee on Cotton Production and Consumption (CCPC), a body comprising representatives from growers, traders, mills, exporters and government, show that while the area under cotton has topped 130 lakh hectares (lh) since 2019, the yield per hectare dropped below 500 kg, four times out of the last six years.

‘Yet to feel the pinch’

Industry officials, traders and cotton research scientists say India is yet to feel the pinch of the low yield since the textile industry has not been running at capacity since March last year due to the Covid pandemic.

“The textiles industry consumes at least 320 lakh bales (170 kg each) currently. Last season (October 2019-September 2020), we exported 47 lakh bales and this season we will end up shipping 75 lakh bales. This was possible due to higher ending stocks but during normal times, this could lead to sharp rise in cotton prices which the domestic industry could find it tough,” said M Ramasami, Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Rasi Seeds (P) Ltd.

According to the CCPC, cotton closing stocks, last season were 120.95 lakh bales, and for the current season, they have been estimated at 97.95. Industry and trader experts feel the closing stocks this season could be lower than CCPC’s estimates. “India cotton yield is low since no new seed technology has been introduced since 2006. When technology is not upgraded, yield stagnates. We are witnessing such a phenomenon now,” said a multinational firm official, on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Countries such as Australia, Brazil and the US have gone five generations ahead of India in cotton seed technology,” the official said.

Ranks 34 in yield

Data show that though India is the largest producer of cotton globally, it ranks 34th in terms of yield, below Vietnam, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Myanmar.

Australia tops the list, getting 2,0171 kg of cotton per hectare, followed by China (1,879 kg), Brazil (1,803 kg) and Turkey (1,645 kg), respectively. “We got the best out of the genetically-modified cotton during 2013-14, but after that yield has stagnated. New technology is not available to farmers, particularly in tackling weeds. Farmers have to spend more on labour to remove the weeds, and it is a reason for production being low in Maharashtra,” said CD Mayee, renowned cotton scientist and President, South Asia Biotechnology Centre.

CCPC data show that Maharashtra has the highest area under cotton at 41.84 lh, but its yield is the lowest among all States below 350 kg. Only Gujarat has shown a rise in acreage over the last three years, but this is attributed to the cultivation of an unauthorised Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) variety.

Technology licence

“Each one in the textile industry will stand to gain if cotton yield increases to at least 600 kg. Farmers will get higher returns, industry will get cotton at a competitive price and in turn, textile products will be competitive in the global market,” said a textile industry official.

“In 2012, the licence to use Bt technology from Monsanto (now taken over by Bayer) expired. Subsequently, we have not got any new technology such as Bollgard III. No new seed technology has been approved since then and this has led to stagnation of yield,” said K Selvaraju, Secretary-General, Southern India Mills Association (SIMA). “The Centre should implement the 2012 Keshav Kranthi report and come up with technology mission on cotton II,” said the official of SIMA, the apex body of textile mills in South India.

Also read: Cotton gains in Gujarat but loses acreage in North Indian States

Cotton scientist Keshav Kranthi, Chief Scientist, International Cotton Advisory Committee, had in 2012 submitted a report to the Centre as the director of Central Institute of Cotton Research, advocating the development of local technology to tackle droughts and weeds.

Pink bollworm menace

“The Bollgard II technology had a big impact, particularly in tackling the pink bollworm until 2015-16. After than the technology lost its potency and the pest developed resistance. Now, farmers have to resort to spraying pesticide to tackle the bollworm and, in a way, this has resulted in productivity dropping,” said Ramasami.

A primary reason for new technology not being available for cotton, or any new crop, is that seed technology firms have withdrawn their applications for approval from the Genetical Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). “Introduction of GM crops were affected by the moratorium ordered by the Supreme Court in 2009 on Bt brinjal. In addition, the Centre began to fix the prices for cottonseed, which led to the royalty multinational seed firms received for the technology they offered being cut sharply. Two years ago, the royalty was reduced to zero,” said Ramasami.

This has resulted in two developments. One, the menace of pink bollworm has increased. Two, farmers have begun to use unapproved seed technologies, which could be harmful to them in the long run.

Maharashtra’s case

“At least 20 lakh hectares in Maharashtra have been brought under the unauthorised HTBt (Herbicide tolerant Bt) cotton. This is fine for short-term but in the longer run, we need standard companies to produce the seeds to protect farmers from any harm such as adulterated or spurious seeds,” said scientist Mayee.

“Illegal technology, especially to tackle weeds, is spreading. This is distributed through locals in villages and farmers, who are being misled and face risks. The organised seed industry is also affected as a result,” said Ramasami.

According to the multinational firm official, farmers are not showing any interest in non-GM cotton since they have to spend more on spraying pesticides and insecticides. “There is no demand from farmers for non-GM cotton seed,” he said.

“We pretty well know how costly engaging farm labour has become these days,” said Ramasami.

Bt seeds make up over 95 per cent of the area under cotton India, which accounts for over 40 per cent of the total global area. Production, however, is only a little over 26 per cent of the total global output.

Ramasami said the Centre should encourage new technology, which will result in investment by multinational and domestic seed companies improving in research and development.


Published on July 29, 2021

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