Namita Bhagat throws light on the initiatives of the Textile Association of India (TAI) in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region focussed on the cotton sector

Endowed with the status of being India's highest cotton-producing region, the Vidarbha region in eastern part of Maharashtra state is scrambling to move up the textile value chain. Although the region has plenty of ginning and spinning units, the scant availability of weaving and processing facilities is impeding its progress. Sadly, now even ginning and spinning sectors are experiencing strains due to factors like outmoded cotton cultivation practices, inadequate farm-industry linkages, technological backwardness and scarce infrastructure. The worst fallout of this whole scenario, however, has been that it has pushed many cotton farmers to the brink of suicide or shift to other crops as cotton farming is no more lucrative.

Despite all the bleakness, there appears a silver lining. The Textile Association of India (TAI), India's largest textile body, has come forward to support and promote Vidarbha's cotton textile industry and help restore its lost sheen.

Root cause

According to TAI chairman Hemant Sonare, the region's cotton farmers are not getting the desired yield as they use conventional methods. Moreover, due to contamination, Indian cotton is being sold at a discount of 7 per cent in the international market. Despite Vidarbha being cotton-rich, farmers there are shifting to other crops and that calls for instant attention from the industry, he cautions.

Switching to genetically-modified Bt cotton to shield against green bollworm and reduce the use of pesticides too turned into a fiasco, as pink bollworm had become resistant to it, leading to increased use of insecticides and eventual high contamination of cotton.

Not all is well with the next steps of the value chain either. Though the ginning business prospects are heartening, the maximum portion of the total cotton produced in Vidarbha goes outside for processing. The region annually produces around 35 lakh cotton bales of which only 7-8 lakh bales are converted into yarn locally, while the rest is sent to other regions for value addition, says Sonare.

A major stumbling block in the development of the local textile industry, he notes, is a very limited investment inflow into the region. For the survival of cotton farming sectors of Vidarbha, there is a need for collective and collaborative effort. The region has tremendous potential for all round value-added growth of the cotton textile industry. However, innovation on all counts is the order of the day that will lead to progress, he underlines.

The brighter side

Clearly, the issues related to Vidarbha's cotton sector are complex requiring multi-pronged solutions. First and foremost, the farmers need to adopt the latest farming techniques to increase yield that will also boost their earnings, asserts Sonare. Vidarbha's cotton production is 300 kg per hectare, while India's average is 500 kg per hectare and the world average is 700 kg per hectare. Australia's average cotton production is 2,200 kg per hectare. Sonare is optimistic that stepping up cotton production in Vidarbha to 2,100 kg per hectare is achievable.

Cotton contamination needs to be contained at the farm level to achieve the desired quality. Sonare suggests this is possible by cultivating native varieties. Besides, embracing an export-oriented and quality-conscious approach will leave an indelible mark on the global market.

It goes without saying that the government on its part has offered special packages to promote the textile and apparel industry. However, more tangible and hands-on solutions are desirable to deal with the Vidarbha crisis. Sonare suggests the industry should adopt cotton-producing villages and switch to corporate farming to change the entire cultivation system as farmers need access to modern farming techniques and a strong processing ecosystem.

In a nutshell, if the region's cotton farmers are able to increase their production and entrepreneurs and businesses can help improve quality, the upcoming textile parks could become the new economic models for the stressed-out farm sector. All this backed by research may help promote Vidarbha as the cotton hub and spinning capital of the country.

The TAI chief also points out that the Chinese economy is currently in troubled waters and there lies a big opportunity for India on a global level.

Notably, Nagpur is a major city in the region and boasts of several cotton-focussed research organisations like the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), the Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (CIRCOT) and the Ginning Training Centre (GTC). In the days to come, Nagpur's stature is bound to rise further with the upcoming metro rail service. What's more, the government of Maharashtra and ministry of civil aviation have collaborated to develop Nagpur as a multi-modal international air passenger hub and a multi-product special economic zone is being constructed next to the airport. Commonly known as the MIHAN project, it aims to remove the development logjam of the Vidharbha region.

TAI's helping hand

In addition to educating and supporting the farmers, Vidharba's cotton textile sector, ranging from the hand-spun and hand-woven sectors to the capital-intensive, sophisticated mill sector, also warrants a special focus.

Rising to the occasion, TAI has stepped in and enhanced its focus on Vidarbha. The association has launched various initiatives to promote its cotton textile industry, many of which are aimed at benefiting the Indian textile industry. Here are some prominent ones:

a) Cotton Vidarbha: This is a new social endeavour by TAI to brand the region's cotton while addressing the societal and industrial issues related to quality and productivity. The key cornerstones of the idea, Sonare said, include farmers' cooperatives, use of modern farming techniques, diversification and cluster model to help secure a better future for the growers.

Moreover, the initiative also entails a value-added manufacturing and retail-led integrated growth approach for employment generation, economic development and prosperity of the region. Vidarbha today stands at a very positive juncture - it has enough cotton, polyester fibre and spinning capacities and what it now badly requires is modern weaving and state-of-art large process houses to climb up the textile value chain. For this, the association is engaging with technocrats, businesses and entrepreneurs who can introduce innovative business models, products, processes, delivery tools, technology, customer service and logistics in this space, apprised the TAI chief.

b) Incubation centres: TAI now has 26 incubation centres in different states that encourage entrepreneurship in the textile and apparel sector as per the region's strength. It is working to create a farm-to-fashion incubation centre model for the textile industry at Nagpur to encourage budding entrepreneurs to set up units under different business models.

TAI helps both aspiring and existing cotton textile unit owners by providing inputs on government aid, incentives, subsidies and funding from financial institutions. It also strives to disseminate information about the Maharashtra state government's textile policy. According to Sonare, the Nagpur incubation centre will boost entrepreneurship, particularly amongst the rural youth. The association is exhorting new entrepreneurs to establish units for cotton ginning, spinning, micro-spinning, weaving, power looms, knitting, processing and garment manufacturing at the village level.

c) Global networking, tie-ups: TAI is discussing with international textile trade associations from China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Myanmar and Vietnam to leverage each others' knowledge, competencies and create strategic partnerships for mutual benefit and growth. The association also wants to invite big international brands and leading sourcing organisations, such as Walmart, CostCo and Target, and create a common platform to establish links with Indian textile and apparel manufacturers through exhibitions and B2B interactions in future.

Sonare, however, is also mindful of the high expectations and the challenge of capitalising on the new emerging opportunities in textile value and supply chain. Existing and budding entrepreneurs could be the change agents, who can develop an integrated framework, he feels.