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Challenges in Indian Cotton Production and Yields


Cotton, a versatile crop crucial for food, feed, and fiber, plays a significant role in India’s agriculture and textile industries. Unfortunately, in recent years, India has faced declining cotton production and yields, posing challenges for these sectors.


GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Cotton Production in India:
  2. Significance of Cotton in India
  3. Rapid Increase and Subsequent Decline in Cotton Production in India:
  4. Issues Associated with the Cotton Sector in India
  5. Way Forward

About Cotton Production in India:

  • Major Crop: Cotton is a crucial commercial crop in India, contributing to approximately 25% of global cotton production.
  • “White-Gold”: Its economic importance in India has earned it the nickname “White-Gold.”
  • Cultivation Distribution: In India, cotton cultivation is divided, with 67% grown in rain-fed areas and 33% in irrigated regions.
  • Climatic Requirements: Cotton thrives in hot, sunny climates with extended frost-free periods, performing best in warm and humid conditions.
  • Adaptability to Soil: Cotton can be grown in various soil types, including well-drained alluvial soils in the north, variable-depth black clayey soils in the central region, and mixed black and red soils in the south.
  • Sensitivity to Waterlogging: While somewhat tolerant to salinity, cotton is highly sensitive to waterlogging, underscoring the importance of well-drained soils.
  • Major Cotton-Producing States: The majority of cotton production comes from ten key states, categorized into three diverse agro-ecological zones:
    • Northern Zone: Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan
    • Central Zone: Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh
    • Southern Zone: Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu

Significance of Cotton in India:

  • Triple Resource: Cotton is a valuable crop in India, providing three essential components:
    • Lint Fiber: The white fluffy fiber, making up approximately 36% of raw unginned cotton, is the primary raw material for the textile industry.
    • Cottonseed: Accounting for about 62% of the cotton, cottonseed serves various purposes.
    • Wastes: Comprising about 2% of the cotton, waste materials are separated during ginning.
  • Textile Dominance: Cotton plays a dominant role in India’s textile industry, commanding a significant share of two-thirds in the country’s total textile fiber consumption.
  • Cottonseed Oil: Cottonseed contains approximately 13% oil, which is widely used for cooking and frying, making it a significant source of vegetable oil.
  • Feed Industry: Cottonseed cake/meal is a vital component in India’s feed industry, ranking second only to soybean in feed cake production.
  • Protein-Rich Feed: The leftover cottonseed cake, constituting 85% of the seed, is a valuable and protein-rich feed ingredient for livestock and poultry.
  • Vegetable Oil Production: Cottonseed oil is the country’s third-largest domestically-produced vegetable oil, following mustard and soybean, contributing to India’s edible oil industry.

Rapid Increase and Subsequent Decline in Cotton Production in India:

  • Between 2000-01 and 2013-14, India experienced a significant surge in cotton production, primarily attributed to Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) technology.
  • Key developments during this period include:
    • Adoption of genetically-modified (GM) cotton hybrids with Bt genes, specifically designed to combat the American bollworm insect pest.
    • This adoption resulted in a surge in lint yields, increasing from 278 kg per hectare in 2000-01 to 566 kg per hectare in 2013-14.
    • Correspondingly, there was an increase in cottonseed oil and cake production.
  • The decline in cotton production and yields began post-2013-14, primarily due to the emergence of the pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella).
  • Factors contributing to the decline:
    • Pink bollworm larvae infesting cotton bolls, causing reduced cotton production and lower quality cotton.
    • Unlike the American bollworm, pink bollworm primarily feeds on cotton, leading to the development of resistance against Bt proteins.
    • Continuous cultivation of Bt hybrids led to pink bollworm populations developing resistance, replacing susceptible ones.
    • Unusual surge in pink bollworm larvae survival on cotton flowers was reported in Gujarat in 2014, and subsequently, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, and northern Rajasthan also experienced pink bollworm infestations in the following years.

Issues Associated with the Cotton Sector in India:

  • Unpredictable Cotton Production:
    • Cotton production in India is subject to significant unpredictability due to various factors.
    • Limited access to irrigation systems, declining soil fertility, and erratic weather patterns, including unexpected droughts or excessive rainfall, contribute to the uncertainty surrounding cotton yields.
  • Small-Scale Farming:
    • The majority of cotton farming in India is carried out by small-scale farmers.
    • These farmers often rely on traditional agricultural practices and have limited access to modern farming technologies, which in turn affects overall cotton production.
  • Market Access Challenges:
    • A significant number of cotton growers in India face constraints in reaching markets and are compelled to sell their harvest at reduced rates to intermediaries.

Way Forward:

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Advocate for integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that combine natural controls, trap crops, and beneficial insects to reduce pesticide dependency while effectively managing pests.
  • Seed Banks and Genetic Diversity:
    • Establish seed banks at the community level to conserve and share traditional cotton seed varieties, preserving genetic diversity and promoting higher-yielding strains.
  • Digital Platforms for Direct Sales:
    • Establish digital platforms that directly connect cotton farmers with buyers and textile manufacturers, reducing middlemen involvement and ensuring fair pricing.
  • Promoting Value Addition:
    • Promote value addition by establishing local cotton processing units that can gin, clean, and process cotton fiber, creating employment opportunities and adding value to the cotton supply chain.

February 2024