New textile policy must focus on leveraging cotton’s strengths

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on October 08, 2021

Better genetics and improved agronomy can sustain production so as to be able to generate ‘genuine’ export surplus

Domestic production of cotton has been unsteady in recent years. Output of this cash crop has got trapped in a narrow 34-36 million bales range. The need to break the production uncertainty and ensure sustained growth is dire as demand is set to grow rapidly the whole of this decade.

There are challenges, though like land constraints, water shortage, climate change and pest attacks, to name a few. At about 12.5 million hectares, cotton planted area is possibly reaching a saturation point. So, the only way to grow is vertical that is through yield enhancement. Our current yields of 500 kg/ha or just about 3 bales per hectare is far below the world average of 750 kg/ha and just one-third of the developed countries’ average.

Tapping tech

So, the way forward is to infuse multiple technologies right from the input stage and along the value chain. This is critical because even in a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, India will continue to be the world’s largest producer. The OECD-FAO has projected Indian cotton output to reach 42-43 million bales by 2030 (from the current 34-36 million bales).

But consumption demand is set to grow at a rate faster than production growth rate with India becoming the largest consumer (38-40 million bales) by 2030. The projected supply-demand scenario means tightening availability, limited or possibly no surplus for export and perhaps greater import volumes.

Obviously, better genetics and improved agronomy can sustain production so as to be able to generate ‘genuine’ export surplus. Importantly, the domestic apparel industry is set to grow with new investments and continuous growth in mill use. But the industry is facing challenges of technological obsolescence, high input cost and limited access to credit.

Also, as a natural fibre, cotton faces competition from synthetic fibres such as polyester. That makes price competitiveness imperative for cotton. This is where infusion of technologies such as digitisation, blockchain and so on can help improve supply chain efficiency and reduce costs.

We must recognise and leverage cotton’s strengths. It is natural, green, biodegradable and eco-friendly. The world is moving towards green products. But when synthetics become cheaper due to an imminent fall in crude oil prices over the next 5-7 years competition with cotton will turn intense.

It is hoped that a new textile policy on the anvil would take into account the emerging scenario and provide a growth-oriented policy environment while advancing sustainability principles.

(Excerpts of the author’s speech on October 7 during World Cotton Day webinar organised by IMC Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Seed Industry of India. The author is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal.)

Published on October 08, 2021

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