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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Cotton revival road map for India

Despite its global standing, the livelihoods of Indian cotton farmers and millers are under threat due to declining cotton yields, prompting Indian planners to plan a strategy to revive cotton growth.

India, the world’s second-largest cotton producer, faces a critical juncture in its agricultural history. The Cotton Association of India (CAI) projects that production in the 2023-24 season will hit a 15-year low. From a peak yield of 572 kg per hectare in 2013-14, yields have plummeted nearly 30 percent to approximately 396 kg per hectare, significantly below the global average of 675 kg.

This reduction in yield has been prompting farmers to switch to other crops, with the CAI predicting a 10 percent decrease in cotton acreage next season, which could hurt production further.

cotton, once a revolutionary crop that was genetically modified to resist bollworms, is now falling prey to the pink bollworm. The latest sowing season saw this pest causing significant damage across the cotton belt in northern India. Additionally, unpredictable weather patterns and inconsistent monsoons are adversely affecting cotton, a water-intensive crop.

Still India aims to become the world’s leading cotton producer once again. This ambition is not beyond reach, but it will require a concerted effort to leverage collaboration and advanced technologies to make a significant turnaround.

The initial success of Bt cotton led to a heavy dependence on this genetically modified variant, side-lining crucial agronomic factors like soil health and water management, and also the planting of Refugia or non-Bt cotton crops to complement and augment the pest resistance. This dependency has resulted in stagnant and then declining yields.

The next generation of genetically modified cotton could be designed not only for pest resistance but also to increase yields significantly. This endeavour will necessitate a partnership among agricultural scientists, regulatory bodies, and the agrochemical industry.

Cotton is a water-intensive crop.Traditional flood irrigation methods are wasteful, whereas technologies like drip irrigation can significantly reduce water and fertilizer consumption while increasing yields. Recent studies suggest that drip irrigation could save 20-30 percent of fertilizer and 50-60 percent of water, boosting cotton production in the process.

Digitisation is the next frontier for agriculture, with an immense potential to transform India’s farmlands. Drones, satellite technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensor-based Internet of Things (IoT), can all help unlock greater yields. Drones, for instance, can scan a large area for signs of pest infestation, alerting farmers to it before it has had the chance to spread. Technology can help farmers time nutritional intervention so that it is at its most effective.

With up to 74 percent of yields hurt due to weed infestation, early-stage weed management helps minimize harmful weed interventions. Hence age-old practices to boost soil health like crop rotation, compost application and green manuring can aid farmers.

As far as cotton is concerned, we need collective action, collaboration, and a shared commitment to usher in a new era of agricultural abundance and prosperity.

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