Cotton is one of the most important fiber as well as cash crop, after the food grains such as wheat and paddy in India. In the country a significant farming population (about 6 million) is based on it and about 40-50 million people are working in the cotton industries directly or indirectly. India is second largest producer of the cotton after the China. It is mainly produced in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Odisha states of the India. The expected area during the year 2013-14 in India, is 119.78 lakh hectare, which is expected to produce 375 lakh bales (each bale of 170 kg). The main states producing cotton are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and it is expected that during the year 2013-14, it will be grown on 26.91, 38.72, 21.42 lakh hectare with the production of 116.00, 81.00, 72.00 lakh bales respectively.

China produces about 32% of the world production followed by India 23%, US 12%, Pakistan 9% and so on. Previously US was producing more cotton than India as the data of 1990-91 shows, US produced 18% and India produced 10% of the world production. But in the previous decade India preformed well and crossed US production. The area under cotton in the world was about 36 million hectare in 2011-12, which was cultivating on around 33 million hectare two decades back, indicates the increase by 10%. It is more significant to say that the yield during this period has increased significantly from about 550 kilogram per hectare to 759 kilogram per hectare showing improvement of 36% in yield.

Cotton, being the major source for fine clothing and also required at the time of medical treatments, is consumed all over the world. The global maximum consumption is in China (23%), India 10%, Pakistan (7%), US (10%), Turkey (3%), Indonesia (2%), Thailand (2%) etc. The main exporting countries of the cotton are US, India, Uzbekistan, Australia, Brazil, while the main importers are China, Bangladesh, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan. Since the US leads in export with the 41% share in the global exports, it tends to play major role in pricing on the export front and China being the largest producer and consumer, affects the trends in production and consumption of cotton of the global trade.

The size of holding being small in the country, a farmer has poor holding capacity, not being able to manage the scientific transportation and storing facilities, immediately will have to take to the nearby market in open vehicles, boosting the deterioration with dirt and dust. Even manual picking is done which contaminates the cotton fiber with other trash materials. In the market yards, the attempt is to carry out the auction/sale in vehicles, but sometimes it is unloaded on the platform in the market yard for auction/sale. After the auction/sale, again the produce is unloaded on the platform in the open in ginning factory, before the ginning starts. Cotton, being the fine lint, requires covered handling to save it from contamination, which is not available due to inadequate infrastructure at farms, markets, and ginning industries level.

The Government of India started technology mission on cotton (TMC) in the year 2000, to improve productivity, production and quality of the crop. This scheme was implemented in four areas which was research, technology dissemination program for farmers, improvements in market infrastructure and modernization, ginning and pressing sector. This mission has helped to improve the quality as well as productivity of cotton, thereby revived the sector, which was facing problems previously. But still this sector is lacking improvements on all the corners. Very few industries and market yards are improved, but the main chunks yet require improvements. This scheme must continue with the vast budget to improve every concerned area within short span. The main issue in this sector during the market season is that when cotton arrival starts in the market, then on that time the paddy arrival also starts in all northern states. The dirt and dust removed from paddy while cleaning contaminates the cotton as the market yards are same for both the crops. In this TMC mission, no doubt the yards are separated, but are within the same premises only; small demarcations are made for the area where the cotton is to be sold, did not help much.

The production of cotton is mainly dependent on the enhanced productivity which can only be achieved by the best package practices and best management services in the production process. The main issue is of sustainable, decease resistant, adverse weather tolerant, high yielding varieties. BT varieties have given a relief to this sector, but yet more can be achieved. At the time of picking, transportation, storage and handling, cotton must be saved from contamination. It can only be achieved by up grading technology for these acts. As due to the small size on holdings in the country, the marketable surplus of the farmer is very less, and it is uneconomic to use the required technology. Close self help groups should be established with common mechanization process to handle these activities in a scientific manner.

In some markets, testing laboratories are established which give result about strength, length, thickness, ginning percentage, weight of the lint, etc., but more scientific, quick and accurate machines are required. It should be made compulsory that each and every heap should be analyzed before the sale is conducted in the market yard, and prices should be paid as per results of the test and not as per visual observations. This will help to improve the quality and the genuine price to be paid to farmers. It ultimately helps to check the market malpractices and monopolized situation.

On the forefront side, the detailed requirements of cotton product and global scenario should be announced well in advance (before the start of season), so that each and every person connected with the sector especially the farmer knows about the prospects. The best variety seeds which have highest germination percentage, disease resistance and suitability to that area should be made available as per requirements. The extension activities, which provide knowledge as to what to be done and when to be done, must be provided by the extension agencies at the door step. No doubt, weather cannot be stopped from being adverse, but the forecast system should be more strong and accurate well in advance, to guide the farmer for some remedial measures which can be taken easily. The accurate data on each and every activity, starting from sowing till it is converted into yarn, related to from where, what is available, which is required for this sector, must be known to every connected person and should be available in abundance. To produce in quality especially organically, must be encouraged with the agency for the certification.

Cotton is the main crop playing pivotal role in Indian farming economy. Long term plan should be devised and implemented region wise. The public sector must intervene in all activities to provide a parallel sector for competition for helping the farmer in getting remunerative prices and also to boost productivity during adverse period, which will help to sustain the cotton scenario in the India. Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) or other related central or state agencies must enter and procure from all markets in the country on remunerative/market prices for the stable production, so that the sector remains sustainable in future and helps the textile industry to plan on long term basis in a big way. This sector has a bright future with hopes that India will be at number one position in production as well as consumption most probably after one decade.

S.S.Randhawa is the Managing Director of National Council of State Agricultural Marketing Boards, New Delhi.