Poor yield, high cultivation cost, and decreasing resistance of Bt cotton have made the crop less lucrative over the years
EXCERPT: Farmer activist Kishor Tiwari [said,] "Maharashtra started growing Bt cotton in 2004. That is the year when the crisis of farmer suicides took off in Maharashtra. Most of those who took their lives were cotton growers. Bt cotton didn't give them good returns due to rising cultivation cost, staggering yield, increasing resistance and other factors."
After years of rise, cotton cultivation declines in India
DNA India, 20 Jul 2016
* Crop acreage drops by 8% nationally; farmers in most states, including Maha, switch to food crops for better returns; experts expect a drop in farmer suicides
After a steady rise over the years, cotton cultivation in the country has declined by 8% this year. The national cotton acreage has come down from 128 lakh hectare to 118 lakh hectare between 2014-15 to 2015-16, revealed the latest Cotton Corporation (CCI) of India statistics.
The CCI had earlier predicted higher cotton acreage for 2015-16. Now, the total cotton output of India is also expected to be a dismal 352 lakh bales, compared to the 380 lakh bales a year ago. A large number of cotton growing farmers are supposed to have switched to food crops such as soybean for better returns this time.
Generally, farmers prefer cotton as it requires lesser water. Recession in the global market last year, however, has led to a crash in cotton prices, which has alerted the growers now. In addition, poor yield, high cultivation cost and decreasing resistance of BT cotton have made it less lucrative over the years, according to activists.
Barring Punjab, Gujarat and MP, all cotton growing states have witnessed a huge drop in acreage this year. Tamil Nadu topped the chart with one-third of the cotton land going to other crops. Maharashtra – the second largest cotton growing state in the country after Gujarat – has witnessed a 9% decline (from 42 lakh hectare to 38 lakh hectare) in cotton sowing. A campaign of "withdraw cotton" has also been launched in the state last year, which seems to have started showing its results.
Last year's recession in the cotton market, reduced exports to China and the US, international stock hoarding and skewed minimum support price (MSP) are supposed to be the prime factors behind the sudden decline in cultivation of this 'cash crop', which has propelled India's rural economy over the last decade.
The MSP for cotton has been fixed at Rs3,750 for medium staple and Rs4,050 for long staple. It was almost double five years ago.
Farmer activist Kishor Tiwari hailed the trend. "Maharashtra started growing BT cotton in 2004. That is the year when the crisis of farmer suicides took off in Maharashtra. Most of those who took their lives were cotton growers. BT cotton didn't give them good returns due to rising cultivation cost, staggering yield, increasing resistance and other factors."
Despite crop failure and rising farmer suicides, cotton cultivation in Maharashtra increased 35% over a decade.
"Now, we can expect a sharp decline in suicides as well," said Tiwari, who has been heading the state's mission for 14 distressed districts for the last one-and-a-half years. He said suicides in Yavatmal have halved this year and gave credit to the withdraw cotton campaign spearheaded by him.
The Union government launched 'Technology Mission on Cotton' in 2000, introducing the "high-yielding" BT cotton variety. While the government claimed that the BT cotton helped the yield per hectare to jump from 300kg to 500-550kg per hectare, the world average of 700-800kg per hectare made such claims hollow.
Nevertheless, the domestic textile industry might bear the brunt of all this. Anticipation of low cotton production has already led to a sudden jump in the cotton and yarn price. This spells tough time for the sector that is already under stress due to skewed global demand for the last two years.
Experts say that till 1970s, the country used to import massive quantities of cotton. Due to intensive efforts, the country has become self-sufficient in cotton production barring a few years in the late 90s and early 20s, when large quantities of cotton had to be imported due to lower crop production and increasing requirements of the domestic textile industry.