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Cover Story | May 2017

Cotton output to rise by 4%: MM Chockalingam

Cotton output to rise by 4%: MM Chockalingam

The Cotton Corporation of India Limited or CCI is engaged in diverse activities related to trade, procurement, and export of cotton. CCI is a public sector agency responsible for equitable distribution of cotton among the different constituents of the industry and aid imports of cotton. Mekala Mallappan Chockalingam, Director (Marketing) and Chairman and Managing Director (I/C), CCI, speaks exclusively to the Indian Textile Journal, about the current cotton scenario in India and shares his views on sustainable cotton, which is making waves everywhere.

Excerpts...How has the year 2017 started for the cotton in terms of production, target and achievements?

During current cotton season 2016-17 (October-September), the acreage under cotton cultivation is expected to decrease by around 12 per cent to 105 lakh hectares as against 118.77 lakh hectares during previous year due to delayed rains, pest attacks viz whitefly in northern zone and pink boll worm in Gujarat region, switching over to other crops like guars, soybeans, pulses, groundnuts, etc. However, due to above normal rains and favourable agro-climatic conditions, yield was better in comparison to the previous year. The Cotton Advisory Board (CAB), in its meeting held on October 24, 2016, estimated that the cotton production may increase by 4 per cent to 351 lakh bales in comparison to 338 lakh bales of previous cotton season. Whereas total cotton consumption in the country is expected to increase to 313 lakh bales as against 312 lakh bales during previous year.

As consumption is increasing, India’s dependability on cotton export will reduce substantially. After including import and opening stock, the exportable surplus availability of cotton is getting concentrated, and it is expected that during cotton season 2016-17, cotton export may reduce to 50 to 55 lakh bales as against 69 lakh bales during 2015-16. As a result of demand and supply balance, domestic prices of cotton is ruling above MSP level and expected to remain stable throughout the year.

Up to March 31, 2017, out of total estimated production of 351 lakh bales, around 272 lakh bales, i.e., 78 per cent cotton have already been arrived and balance arrival, i.e., 22 per cent cotton is expected to arrive in coming two to three months.

The cotton price front has had a lot of fluctuations in 2016? What is the present situation?

The general fluctuations in domestic cotton prices during the season are mainly influenced from off-take of yarn, international price trends, demand from major importing countries viz, China and other Asian countries, settlement on future market, unsold stocks at domestic and international level, trade restrictions, etc.

During cotton season 2015-16, from the month of May 2016, the prices of cotton stared improving and touched its highest level during mid of July 2016 due to:

a.increase in demand from domestic mills to cover their lean season requirements;

b.scarcity of good quality cotton in the market;

c.lower cotton production due to whitefly pest attack in northern region, pink boll worm attack in Gujarat, delayed rains in central and southern region, and less rains across cotton- growing areas;

d.speculation by traders by selling small quantity in higher prices to create hoax for tight supply and to earn more profit through escalation in prices and e.delay in monsoon rains and low acreage under cotton in 2016-17 in comparison to 2015-16.

During the current cotton season 2016-17, in the beginning, cotton prices were ruling in the range of Rs 39,000 per candy to Rs 41,000 per candy. However, on the eve of demonetisation during second week of November 2016, due to money supply tightness farmers opted to wait till the position normalises and kapas arrival reduced substantially. As a result, cotton prices increased due to less availability of cotton. Thereafter, in the subsequent month’s cotton prices further increased and presently ruling in the range of Rs 43,000 to Rs 45,000 per candy. Major factors for such spurt in cotton prices are as follows:

•Increase in demand of cotton to fulfill export commitments and fears of interruption in supply of best quality during lean season

•Steady trend in the world markets was also a factor behind the rise in the rates

•China back to the market with interest in fresh purchasing of cotton

•Strong Rupee appreciation against US Dollar and depreciation of currencies of its competitors like China, Bangladesh and Vietnam in the global market

Cotton export fell deeply last year. What were the reasons? What is the present situation?

No. During last cotton season 2015-16, cotton export from the country was 69 lakh bales as compared to export of 57.71 lakh bales during 2014-15. Key reasons for such increase were:

•Cotton from India is under free-trade policy without any restriction

•During 2015-16, there was significant crop damage in Pakistan owing to whitefly attack. Thus, looking to the shortage of quality cotton to fulfill the needs of their domestic textile industry and lesser transportation cost in comparison to other countries, Pakistan started importing cotton from India. As a result, cotton import by Pakistan which used to be in the range of 7 to 8 per cent of the total cotton export by India, increased to the level of about 40 per cent

•Increase in demand of Indian cotton by other neighbouring countries, i.e., Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey Thailand, etc. in last 2-3 years due to increase in consumption and establishment of numerous recently constructed spinning and weaving mills.

As per the Cotton Advisory Board, during current cotton season 2016-17, the export of cotton from the country is expected to be less by around 27 per cent to 50 lakh bales as against 69 lakh bales during 2015-16 due to increase in domestic cotton consumption in comparison to the production. As per trade, so far around 40 lakh bales have already been exported from the country.

In cotton production, India is No. 2, but still we lag behind in cotton productivity. What are the steps taken to improve this front? How have they been bringing in results?

In terms of production, India is the highest cotton producer in the world, however, it lags behind in cotton productivity. At present, the average yield of cotton is about 550 kg/hectare, which is far below the world average of 750 kg/hectare and other cotton-producing countries like Australia (1,800 kg/hectare), China (1,600 kg/hectare) and Brazil (1,500 kg/hectare). The main productivity constraints in cotton cultivation are undependable monsoon, unsuitable soil, varietal multiplicity, use of non-certified seeds, improper spacing, inability to take-up timely sowing, non-adoption of recommended technologies especially in case of plant protection and fertilizer use, labour shortage, competition from other crops, endemic to pests, to name a few. India can also reach to the productivity level of other cotton-producing countries by concentrating on such technical aspects related with cotton sowing.

Productivity can be increased by motivating the farmers through awareness meetings and front line demonstrations for using good quality seeds, timely sowing, plant protection by using natural methods and adoption of modern/scientific farm practices like inter cropping, high-density planting system, etc. The Government of India is making all-out efforts for enhancement of yield in the country. Besides this, cotton research institutes are also making efforts by various R&D on pilot basis for increasing yield, improvement of quality, demonstration of best practices for reducing the contamination of cotton, developing new varieties of cotton, etc. In this endeavour, the plan of revival of Technology Mission on Cotton (TMC)- Phase-II is underway wherein Mini Mission-I & II is targeted looking to the present requirement of high yielding good quality of cotton and face upliftment of Indian cotton at global level by adapting global best practices and development of desi cotton along with new multi gene GM cotton.

The objectives and roadmap of Mini Mission-I & II under Technology Mission on Cotton-Phase-II covers all the aspects, i.e., from increasing the farmers income, reducing the cost of cultivation, establishing linkage of best management practices through weekly voice-mail/SMS to farmers of all the cotton-growing states to reducing chemical load in cotton farming by promoting desi/organic and heritage cotton varieties. If the proposed TMC (MM-I&II) is implemented in real, it may create a milestone in the history of cotton development in the country.

Contamination is another problem area, but India is believed to have come a long way?

With the efforts of the Government of India through various measures like technology mission on cotton, integrated cotton cultivation, high density planting system and instrument-based quality evaluation, India can now become the largest cotton-growing states with reasonably good quality of cotton. With enhanced research efforts made by the Government of India, basic fibre parameters as well as quality of ginning and pressing have shown tremendous improvements except the issue of contamination. Due to this contamination issue, Indian cotton is sold on discounted rates in comparison to equivalent foreign cotton. The problem of contamination is significant at farm level due to small land holdings by the farmers, manual picking and different climatic condition in different states. Besides this, Indian cotton also contaminated with various foreign material like jute twine, dust, plastic, fibre, varietal admixture, etc. due to poor handling at farm level and during processing of cotton in ginning and pressing factories. Producing contamination-free cotton is now a biggest task in India.

The Ministry of Agriculture is making sincere efforts for providing necessary training to cotton farmers and issuing advisory notice at farm level to avoid contamination. In addition, the Ministry of Textiles is also taking this issue very seriously and has proposed various measures by reviving the Technology Mission on cotton, phase –II, Mini Mission (MM) III and IV in such a way that the least contaminated cotton may be available to textile industry and farmers may get remunerative prices for their produce. The key objective of MM-III is to produce contaminant-free cotton bales with acceptable organic trash ensuring traceability and prepare guidelines to be followed at farm level, transportation and storage areas to produce contaminant-free seed cotton and make them available to appropriate agencies for implementation of the same. Besides this, Mini Mission –IV is targeted to develop Indian Cotton Branding as a global premium cotton. Once implemented, these measure will ensure removal of contamination at all stage and Indian cotton will fetch better price and Indian cotton will compete at world level with.

Though Bt cotton accounts for 95 per cent of production, there is much controversies surrounding it. What are your views on this?

As per the news reports, the acreage under Bt cotton cultivation had reached to the level of 95 per cent during 2014-15. However, during the current cotton season 2016-17, the acreage under Bt cotton cultivation is expected to fall by 8 to 10 per cent in comparison to previous years and shifted to desi hybrid varieties developed by the cotton research institutes under the Ministry of Agriculture due to high cost of Bt cotton seeds as compared to non Bt cotton seeds and its ineffective against sucking pests like jassids, aphids, whitefly, etc.

Bt cotton was introduced in 2002 in central and south India and in 2005 in north India. Initially yields increased significantly all across the country during 2002-2005, with very less area under Bt cotton in central and south and without any Bt cotton in North India. In the first four years, only 20 Bt-hybrids were approved for commercial cultivation. Subsequently, a large number of Bt hybrids were released, thereby creating confusion. Interestingly, within five years from 2006 to 2011, more than 1,000 Bt hybrids were released and the hybrid-cotton area increased from 50 to 95 per cent.

Strangely, yields stagnated or even declined after 2005 until date despite doubling of fertilizer usage, doubling of insecticide usage, introduction of Bollgard-II and other new Bt events, release of more than 1,000 new Bt hybrids and increase in Bt cotton area from 11.7 per cent in 2005 to more than 90 per cent after 2010. During 2015-16, Bt cotton surrounded with controversies like:

–Bt cottonseed monopolies of MONSANTO

–Use of illegal Bt cotton seed

–Pink boll worm resistant to Bt

–Ineffective against sucking pests like jassids, aphids, whitefly, etc.

Looking at the above facts, there is a need to motivate the farmers along with proper training for best farm practices to avoid dependency on Bt seeds of MONSANTO. As per the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, Indian cotton now has access to all technologies including IPM, IRM, INM, IWM, Bt-hybrids and Bt-varieties. 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 tremendous hope that yields can be easily doubled and cost of production can be reduced significantly. In this regards, in order to motivate the farmers to adopt best farm practices and use of desi hybrids, proposal is underway under the Technology Mission on Cotton-Phase-II, Mini Mission I & II.

Sustainable cotton is making waves everywhere. Where is India? What is its roadmap to achieve this?Many of the global best practices have evolved over years of hard work carried out by scientists of the respective countries. These practices were mostly tailormade for the local adaptable conditions. It is possible that many of the practices may not be suitable for other countries. However, basic principles of best practices that provide high yields are based on ecology, environment and sustainability. Thus, in short, sustainable cotton is cotton that’s grown carefully after considering environmental and economic aspects. The choice of best practices would depend on the local climate, varietal adaptability, seasonal water availability, soil type and nutrient status, major insect pests and diseases and market demand.

Based on the lessons learnt from the best practices followed across the globe, the basic principles as suggested by CICR for sustainable cotton production for India are as under:

•Standardising row orientation to maximise productivity of Bt varieties and long-linted desi cotton in pure and intercropped stands under HDPS

•Manipulating crop canopy to induce compactness and earliness, increase boll setting and boll weight and improve productivity of:

oBt cotton varieties and hybrids

oLong linted desi cotton varieties

•Introducing compatible cover/inter-crop and mulches for economising N use, moisture conservation and improving productivity in Bt cotton and long-linted desi cotton.

•Precision input management for improving yield and resource use efficiency and reducing production cost.

CICR has been working over the past few years on several concepts related to the best practices that can lead towards sustainable cotton production systems. Over the past 10 years, CICR coordinated a project under the Technology Mission on cotton to develop 21 short-duration compact Bt varieties with high harvest index.

A new Bt variety of 120 days duration is in the final stage of testing and hold tremendous promise for its breakthrough potential. The new culture ‘CICR-Ugank-Bt’ is a compact Bt variety of 120 days duration. It is highly tolerant to sap-sucking pests, short statured at 65-70 cm height with high harvest index and very good fibre quality. Its performance in field trials at CICR farm was excellent. High-density planting systems were experimented under Indian conditions. Plastic mulching, conservation tillage, canopy management and precision input management were successfully tested at different centres.

Twenty one varieties and desi varieties were tested at 17 locations across the country and 3-4 new varieties were identified separately for each State recently for their excellent performance under high density conditions. Brief results are presented below:

Results obtained with recent varieties developed/coordinated by CICR and tested for sustainable productivity:

•The short duration compact Bt-varieties and short duration Desi cotton varieties of high GOT (>40 per cent) have excellent fibre qualities in all categories of short, medium and long staple for all purposes of non-spinnable (surgical, absorbent, denims, mattresses etc.,) and spinning potential varieties with 60-80 counts.

•The desi cotton species are inherently robust with high levels of tolerance to a-biotic and biotic stresses. At least eight desi varieties with excellent long staple (26-31 mm) fibre were developed recently by scientists of the Cotton Research Station of Nanded (MAU, Parbhani). These varieties were tested by ICAR-CICR in multi-location trials across the country over the past 2 -3 years and were found to hold great promise because of their high yields in high density planting at very low production costs with least requirement of chemical inputs.

•Field experiments showed that the Bt-varieties and Desi varieties under high density planting consistently out-yielded the reference Bt-hybrids at recommended spacing at all locations. With input use, low cost of production and high yields under high density, the future holds great promise for Indian cotton with the new INM, IWM, IRM and IPM technologies to be implemented in the short duration high density planting systems.

The above sustainable cotton road map is proposed under Technology Mission on Cotton-Phase-II, Mini Mission I II. Once implemented, these measures will ensure that Indian cotton quality will be at par with the international standards.

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