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.