India’s Major Crops: Cotton

Earliest evidences of cotton are from Mehrgarh where cotton cultivated 7,000 years ago. During the Indus Valley Civilization, cotton was cultivated abundantly and cotton industry was well developed. Some methods used in the Indus Valley for the spinning and fabrication of the cotton continued to be used in India until modern industrialization came.

Cotton Species

Out of about 50 species of cotton plants in the world, only above four have been domestically cultivated for cotton fibres. India is the only country in the world which grows all the 4 species of the cotton cultivated. These species are:

  • Gossypium arboreum (Asian Cotton)
  • Gossypium herbaceum (Asian cotton)
  • Gossypium barbadense (Egyptian cotton)
  • Gossypium hirsutum (American Upland cotton)

Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense are the most commonly cultivated species of cotton in the world. Gossypium hirsutum variety is the most important agricultural cotton, accounting for more than 90% of world fibre production.

Among the above four, two are diploid (Gossypium arboreum and G herbaceum) and the other two tetraploid (G hirsutum and G barbadense).  The diploid species referred to as the ‘Desi’ cotton, having low productivity and low quality cotton, contributes 25 – 30% of the country production. The tetraploids variety contributes remaining 70% of the cotton production in India. These varieties have fine quality fibre, and are normally used by the textile industry.

Apart from that, hybrid cotton is produced from crossing tetraploid species G hirsutum are also cultivated in the central and southern zones.

Cotton Crop

Cotton is grown as a kharif crop in India.  The planting period of cotton normally is from March to September, while the harvesting period is from October to February. The peak marketing season for the crop is during November to March.  There are mainly three cotton-producing zones in India viz.

  • Northern zone (Hirsutum and Arboreum Zones), comprising Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • Central zone (Hirsutum, Arboreum, Herbaceum and Hybrid Zones), comprising Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
  • Southern zone (Hirsutum, Arboreum, Herbaceum, Barbadense and Hybrid Zones) comprising Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

About 65% of total cotton is produced in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana.

State Production (2015-16)* % Share in Production
Gujarat 9.7 32.76%
Maharashtra 6.5 21.95%
Telangana 3.86 13.04
All – India 30.15 100
* million bales of 170 Kg each; Source: India Agricultural Statics Pocketbook, 2016

The northern region produces short and medium staple cotton; the southern region normally produces long staples cotton, while the central region produces long and medium staples. Names of Some Popular Hybrid Varieties of Cotton: Assam Comilla, Bengal Desi, Jayadhar, Marathwada & Khandesh , Jhurar, Bunny Brahma, Brahma, Bunny, Suvin.

For a healthy growth, cotton requires uniformly high temperature (21°C to 30°C) and at least 210 frost free days in a year. Since it requires modest rainfall; a large part of cotton is grown in India in rainfed areas. The best soil to growth cotton are Black soils of Deccan and Malwa plateau; however, cotton also grows well in alluvial soils of the Satluj-Ganga plain and red and laterite soils of the peninsular region. Since cotton farming is less mechanized in India, it needs cheap labour.

Global Production Figure

  • Globally, around 110 million bales (25 million tonnes) of cotton is produced of which maximum share is of China with 38 million bales, followed by India with near 37 million bales of 170 Kg each. However, in terms of cultivation area, India is first in world.
  • Most of the cotton produced in China is consumed domestically. Due to this, China is not a large exporter of cotton. World’s largest cotton exporting country is United States; followed by India.

Production in India

India is first country in the word in terms of cultivation area and second in the world in terms of production, next to China. Starting with a humble figure of 3 million bales; India has attained the status of second largest producer country today with a production of above 30 million bales in 2015-16.

India’s Cotton Exports

India is world’s largest cotton exporter after United States. Till 2003-04, India was net importer of cotton; however after that India has been a net exporter thanks to liberalization of cotton export; increased production of cotton due to use of Bt Cotton. Currently, around 2/3 part goes to China and rest to Thailand, Bangladesh and Pakistan. All these countries have flourishing garment manufacturing industries. In recent times, Vietnam is also emerging as a major importer of India’s cotton.

Liberalization of Cotton Exports

India is a Cotton surplus and Yarn surplus country.  Government of India had liberalized raw cotton exports since July 2001, dispensing with the system of allocation of cotton export quota in favour of different agencies and traders. Exports of cotton from the country are under Open General License (OGL) since July 2001. OGL is a term from 1970s and 80s and as such does not exist today. Today, it refers to no restriction of import and export.

Role of Cotton in Indian Economy

Cotton provides direct employment to around 60 Lakh farmers and indirect employment  to around 4-5 Crore People via cotton based industries. It is also one of the largest foreign exchange earner commodities of India. It is base of cotton textile industry which plays pivotal role in Indian economy by its employment generation, export earning and industrial output.

India vs. China: Should India follow China Model in cotton?

China and India produce almost equivalent quantity of cotton. While China is largest producer; all of its cotton is consumed locally by industries and China is a net importer of Cotton. On the other hand, India is second largest producer but also a large exporter of cotton.

  • Although exports of cotton earn foreign exchange; yet it is one of the main imports of China from India. About 70% of our agri export to China is raw cotton.
  • The Indian cotton is converted into value added textiles in China and then exported to several countries of the world.
  • Further, since a huge amount of cotton and cotton yarn is exported to China; any slump in demand from China affects Indian cotton prices and farmers badly.
  • Thus, if India was able to consume more domestically grown cotton to produce value-added fabrics; it could have a great impact on the trade imbalance between the two countries in favour of India.

It is interesting to note that China is the largest importer of rice in the world and India is the largest exporter but China does not import rice from India.

Cotton Corporation of India

Cotton Corporation of India was established in 1970 under Companies Act 1956. It’s a Government of India’s corporate agency, engaged in diverse activities related to trade, procurement, and export of cotton. CCI is governed by Textile Policy 1985 issued by Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. CCI operates in the following states as of now – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka , Tamil Nadu and Orissa.