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Cover Story | October 2019

Mandatory bale testing & quality labelling on cards: CCI chief

Cotton has been under pressure in India with production and acreage declining in the recent times. What are the situation and your comments?

During cotton season 2018-19, area under cotton cultivation increased marginally to 126.07 lakh hectares as against previous years’ area of 125.86 lakh hectares. However, yield decreased by 9 per cent to 454 kg/ha as against previous years’ yield of 500 kg/ha due to drought like situation, deficient and erratic rains, dry and hot weather and soil moisture stress conditions mainly in parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra. As a result, cotton production also decreased by 9 per cent to 337 lakh bales as against previous years’ production of 370 lakh bales.

For ensuing cotton season 2019-20, sowing has almost been completed in all the major cotton-growing States and area under cotton is expected to be at par with cotton season 2018-19, i.e., 126.00 lakh hectares.

On the basis of average yield of the last five years, estimated area of 126.00 lakh hectares and present agro-climatic conditions, it is expected that total production of cotton in the country may remain around 350 lakh bales in 2019-20. Thus, to say that cotton has been under pressure in India with declining acreage and production is not true.

The prices of cotton have also been fluctuating quite often causing concerns. What are the steps taken by CCI to stabilise it?

It has always been the endeavour of CCI to make its sales system more market friendly so that the industry can get the good quality raw material at competitive prices. CCI pricing system is flexible and value based and is decided as per the market conditions of demand and supply. CCI is selling its stocks on daily basis through e-auction without break so that textile mills including MSME units may cover their need of good quality cotton at reasonable prices.

The government always talks about better livelihood for farmers. What are CCI contributing to improve this and what the results?

In order to lay the foundation for sustainable cotton production in the country and making the productivity and quality of cotton at par with international standards, CCI has initiated efforts to introduce mechanised harvesting of cotton in India.

In the western countries like USA, Australia, etc., cotton harvesting is fully mechanised with big machines as their land holdings are big. However, due to small and fragmented land holdings of cotton farmers in India, it may not be possible to import the same technology. To overcome the above issues, CCI has distributed indigenously manufactured hand-held mechanised kapas-plucker machines to the marginal and small cotton farmers under CSR. As per the feedback received from the cotton farmers, introduction of this machine has helped them in improving the quality of cotton as well as financial returns by improving the efficiency of harvesting.

Considering the impact of the above CSR intervention, CCI is scaling up the said activity on a large scale in a phased manner under CCI-CSR collaboration scheme. This scheme may prove to be a progressive step towards better livelihood of farmers.

Ginning and poor quality of cotton. Have we done enough homework to better technologies on these lines and how have they benefitted the industry?

With the efforts of Government of India through various measures India has become the largest cotton growing country with reasonably good quality of cotton. With enhanced research efforts made by Government of India, basic fibre parameters as well as quality of ginning and pressing have shown tremendous improvements except the issue of contamination. This problem arises due to manual picking and poor handling of cotton at farm level, inadequate infrastructure in G&P factories for removal of contaminants and also due to lack of bale to bale characterisation, which are the hallmarks of international cotton.

Realising the need for achieving a special place for Indian cotton in the international arena and to ensure production of assured quality bales, Government of India is under the process of introducing mandatory bale testing and quality labelling/bale tagging system. This would also ensure traceability of cotton bales with pressmark number, year of manufacture, lot number, bale number, weight, and quality parameters like grade, variety, fibre length, micronaire, uniformity ratio, trash and moisture.

Information technology and communication. What steps has CCI taken to improve and achieve better results through these channels?

Information technology and communication (ICT) is an integral part of day-to-day activity of CCI and CCI has taken various initiatives to improve and achieve better results through these channels.

In this endeavour, CCI has updated its website with latest technology and even a person with disability is able to access the website with the help of assistive technologies. It has adopted ERP system (named PRAGTI) at its corporate office and branch offices by linking the same with its all core activities like purchase, sale, finance, HR/payroll, etc. Zonal coordinators and help desk is setup at head office for help in case of any difficulty in implementation/running of ERP. Besides this, CCI has implemented portal based e-Auction system for sale of lint cotton and cotton seed in domestic and International market.

During current cotton season, for the first time, CCI has started registration of farmers on its ERP system so that the benefits of MSP reach only the bonafide cotton farmers in the Country. As a new initiative, CCI has also implemented online payment system to cotton farmers and 100 per cent payment has been released to cotton farmers directly into their bank accounts.

To empower cotton farmers, CCI has launched the mobile app “Cott-Ally” where farmers can get all requisite information in their local language, i.e., MSP rates, details of procurement centres, cotton related news, chatting with CCI, registering grievance and tracking their payments, etc.

CCI has implemented electronic generation of purchase bills for proper identification of cotton farmers and fast releasing of payments directly into their bank accounts. For this purpose, CCI has equipped all its procurement centres with laptops, web-cams and printers.

Thus, by using information technology in MSP operations has made these operations more effective for both the farmers and CCI.

Bt cotton, organic cotton and pest control issue. Where does the cotton community in India stand on these issues?

Bt cotton was first introduced in India in 2002, primarily for bollworm control. At present, around 95 per cent BT cotton is being cultivated across the country and the share of non-Bt/organic cotton is meagre.

Though, Bt cotton had effectively controlled infestation, however, it is ineffective against sucking pests like jassids, aphids, whitefly, etc. On the other hand, cost of Bt cotton seeds is very high in comparison to non Bt/desi cotton seeds but no adequate availability of good quality non-Bt/desi cotton authentic seed.

More than 800 varieties of cotton seed hybrids are available in India and farmers are not aware which is better for sowing in their farm causing crop failure and increase in input costs.

The major issues are:

  • Non-availability of authentic seeds at reasonable prices,
  • non-availability of adequate good quality seeds near to farms,
  • credibility of source of seeds and authentic seed distribution channel,
  • admixture of different variety of seeds, and
  • physical and genetic purity of seed purchased from market.

Thus, there is a requirement of hybrids and cultivars having following properties:

  • less maturity period,
  • improved yield,
  • less water consumption,
  • resistant to moisture stress conditions, and
  • resistant to pests/disease.

Indian cotton now has access to all technologies including Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Insecticide Resistance Management (IRM), Integrated Water Management (IWM), Integrated Nutrient Management (INM), integrated weed management strategies and Bt.-hybrids. The Government of India and cotton research institutes are making efforts to meet the present requirements. With the new alternative system of high density planting with the new short duration Bt.-varieties and desi-varieties that have high harvest index, high ginning percentage and very good fibre qualities, there is hope that yields can be enhanced and cost of production can be reduced significantly in the near future.

Now, there is need of concentrated efforts through community based approach where textile consumer, research institutes and cotton farmers may come together to set up a sustainable systems for production of good quality contaminant-controlled cotton.

Quality of Indian cotton needs much to be desired. In the recent times, how have these issues been tackled and initiatives taken to help the farmers and the industry?

Fibre quality is of paramount importance and therefore, CCI procures only fair average quality grade kapas, whether under MSP or commercial operations.

To ensure most remunerative price to cotton farmers, CCI has provided digitalised moisture meters, micronaire testers and portable ginning machines to all its procurement centres, so that farmers get right price for their produce based on scientific assessment of their quality at spot.

Besides this, in order to provide good quality cotton to the textile industry, CCI has prescribed quality norms for ginning and pressing factories to give better quality of cotton as per parameters fixed for lint realisation%, shortages, trash% and packing quality of bales.

In its long journey of five decades, CCI truly has proved to be a friend of the cotton farmer and a dependable supplier of good quality cotton to the textiles mills in the country. With all its efforts, CCI is likely to increase its market share in the Indian cotton market, in coming years and thus play a larger role in improving the perception and valuation of Indian cotton in the world market.

How do you see the growth prospects for the cotton industry in future? Out cotton trading have wider impact on the industry in the long run. What are your comments?

Cotton is one of the most important and widely produced agricultural and industrial crops in the world. India currently wears the crown as the foremost producer of cotton amongst all the countries of the world. Though cotton has been native to India right from the beginning of civilisation, India had to overcome major hurdles to achieve this position. The hurdles included low productivity, lack of irrigation facilities, fragmented holdings and illiteracy in the rural areas. However, the very fact that India has been ruling supreme, in terms of quantity of cotton produced over several years shows that India can remain a major player in the international market for a long time.

The new shift in global policy making towards sustainability and environmental consciousness is a golden opportunity for cotton to regain its position as the most important constituent of textile products globally. Due to the rising environmental consciousness of the consumers, polyester and other manmade fibres that had pushed cotton to second place may not remain attractive options in future.

In order to regain the popularity of cotton, it is important to educate the consumers about the advantages and environmental sustainability of cotton. For production of good quality cotton, there is a need to focus on the issues to make cotton farming a sustainable option for farmers. Leading market brands and cotton consuming industry, instead of importing contaminant-controlled cotton from other countries, should come together to strategise and implement more sustainable ways of cotton production in collaboration with the cotton research institutes and farmers. Multi-stakeholder initiatives along with better pricing support to cotton farmers would systematically change the way of producing cotton. With all the above efforts, it is expected that in the coming years Indian cotton would receive a highly positive image at the international level due to improved quality in terms of contaminant-control as well as sustainability.

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