The Cotton Cultivation and Export Sector of India : An Overview

The history of Indian cotton is very hazy as no concrete historical records are available. Bits and pieces of information gathered from the narratives of ancient Greek historians and conquerors who had visited India indicates that cotton and hand spun fabrics of cotton were quite famous in ancient India and the export of cotton from India dates back to the medieval times. Ancient Greek historians like Herodotus and Strabo had chronicled praises of the ancient Indian cotton and the vivid colors of the hand spun fabric made from cotton. The harvesting and uses of cotton to make fabrics dates back to at least 3000 BCE, during the period of Indus Valley civilization, as established from the ruins of Mohenjo-daro. The country has come a long way since then.

The 1970s witnessed a huge cotton export amounting to eight to nine lakh bales per annum. The country became self sufficient in cotton production after the continuous Government initiatives implemented through several Five Year Plans. The Indian government launched “Technology Mission on Cotton” in 2000 which gave the Indian cotton industry the necessary momentum through improved R&D for sowing Hybrid cotton seeds, introduction of high technologies, increase in the area of cotton farming and better cultivation management, resulting in significant increase in the yield of cotton. All these developmental programs helped the Indian cotton industry to make a complete turnaround evident from the high cotton yield in the years 2012-2013.

The main area of cotton cultivation in India is led by Saurashtra (in Gujarat) and its seven districts where the cotton cultivation during the current kharif season covered an area of 16.86 lakh hectares.  Other cotton cultivating areas of India include Kutch (55,900 hectares) and Surendranagar (4 lakh hectares). This statistics pertains to the current kharif season at the end of which the net cotton yield of India was 120 lakh bales in 2012-2013.


The Punjab Government is planning a complete revamping of the cotton cultivation in India. Three boards have been constituted for litchi, maize and cotton, respectively to encourage their cultivation as alternate crop with the permission from the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. These boards are under the direct supervision of the Chief Minister (Chairman) with the Agriculture Minister as the Vice-Chairman. Of the three, one board is dedicated to the overall development of cotton farming.


The Cotton Development Board constituting of ten successful and progressive cotton farmers and three representatives of the cotton processing industry (Chosen state wise by the Financial Commissioner, Development) with a three years tenure of membership. The responsibility vested upon the Cotton Development Board is to maintain an acute observation on the cotton cultivation. The various responsibilities of the board include coordination of R&D on the various aspects of cotton farming to improve the general yield, up-gradation of the infrastructure involved, and improve the quality of cotton produced through superior farming techniques.


According to the recent projections of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), India is going to overtake China in terms of cotton production and become the largest producer of cotton in the world by 2022. India’s net yield of cotton will witness an increase of 25% while China will face depreciation in its net cotton yield by 17%. As per the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022 report, India’s consumption of cotton is expected to grow far more than in any other country. The Department of Agriculture Ministry data further revealed that India’s net yield of cotton for the harvest years 2012-2013 (July to June) stood at 338 lakh bales of 170 kg each. China is also going to lose out to India because of a general shrinkage of 20% in its cotton farming areas.


The final drafts of an official agreement were exchanged between India and Bangladesh under the proposed Cotton Purchase Agreement, 2013-2014, according to which India will supply Bangladesh with 20 lakh bales of cotton (1 bale weighs 170 kilos) in addition to a collaborative textile sector agreement that was also signed between the two countries. Bangladesh Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddique has been guaranteed a consistent supply of cotton from India for the Bangladesh textile mills by the Indian Textiles Minister, K Sambasiva Rao who declared that, “As regards to the agreement, the final drafts have been exchanged between the three sides – the Textiles ministry, Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) and the Trading corporation of Bangladesh (TCB)”. Such an import of cotton will definitely strengthen the economic bond between the two neighboring countries.


Though India’s cotton exports saw a sharp decline of 36% as per a latest report of US Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to which, India shipped 13.91 million bales of cotton in August-June (2011-2012). The cotton marketing year runs from August to July. Also, the preliminary data suggest that exports reached 9.1 million bales through the end of June. This data pertains to the current marketing year of 2013 (calculated over a span of first 11 months ending in June 2013). However, the export scenario is picking up fast as evident from the overwhelming response of the major trading firms to the auctions held by CCI. The slump of the rupee against dollar is in fact acting as an advantage for the exporters who are now being capable of export keeping a higher margin. The steady demand from the yarn manufacturers is naturally boosting the export, the major export markets being China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Further the state run organization, CCI has considerably relaxed the export restrictions in the current cotton marketing season to the end of September.

The farmers are more than encouraged by the adequate monsoon this year and have increased the cultivation of cotton as evident from the data that cotton farming area has increased to 10.85 million hectares as compared to the last season’s 10.11 million hectares. India’s projected cotton yield for the 2012-2013 harvest years is 33.8 million bales of which the country’s domestic consumption alone is estimated to be 28.56 million bales. The cotton cultivation of our country is going through some fundamental changes for the betterment of the cultivation. India is now the second largest producer of cotton, only a decade away from being the top producer of cotton in the world. It is evident that the high yield of cotton of our country will be sufficient to meet the domestic needs and still enough will be left for a successful export market.


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