Is the Central Government bringing back the technology mission on cotton (TMC) in a revised format to step up output, acreage and yield? There is a felt need as the earlier TMC had expired and a new one is called for so as to greatly benefit farmers and the textile industry, which squarely depends on home grown cotton. What is more, around 25 mn farmers and another 20 mn people in cotton trading, ginning and pressing rely on cotton cultivation. In addition, cotton is the engine of growth for the textile sector, which provides jobs to 105 mn people with the potential to create another 22 mn jobs by 2025.

While the Central Government is yet to take swift action, preparatory work has begun at the industry level in the Southern India Mills Association (SIMA) at Coimbatore. The Association proposes to bring back TMC in a revised format in the cotton advisory board, and the Textile Commissioner has already constituted a Sub-committee and sub- groups and the detailed preparation report is in progress. SIMA wants the Union Textiles Ministry to take up the matter with the Cabinet committee to bring back TMC. Also implicit in the plan is to more than double the income of farmers, seriously suffering due to technology obsolescence and the absence of proper technology transfer.

The fall-out the TMC has been phenomenal. The cotton output was substantially up from 178 lakh bales in 1999 to 398 lakh bales in 2013-14. Also, area under cotton rose steeply, from 91 mn hectare to 128 mn hectare during the period TMC was in operation (accounting for 36 to 38 per cent) of the global cotton average. Now, India is the largest cotton producer globally and a net exporter.

After closure of TMC, there were indications that necessary benefits would be made available through different schemes of the Agriculture ministry. In the process, cotton has lost its importance. Productivity has dropped below 500 Kg per hectare, from 580 kg per hectare, and annual cotton output has fallen below 340 lakh bales from 398 lakhs bales and it may go below 300 lakh bales soon, in the absence of an immediate policy intervention by the government.

The national average cotton yields in Australia, Brazil, China, Turkey, Mexico and Israel are more than 1,500 kg lint per hectare. The existing BT Technology that helped India to increase the yield to a certain extent has expired few years back.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) have over the last decade, developed 21 varieties of Desi cotton that have yielded excellent results. These projects highlight that the farmer’s income can be more than doubled if appropriate cotton technologies are developed and implemented. But the Indian Scientists could not make further progress due to paucity of funds.

Against this background, SIMA has appeated to the Textile Minister to bring back TMC in a revised format with four Mini – Missions – Mini – Mission I – Mini –Mission II – Mini – Mission III and Mini – Mission IV.

Mini – Mission I comprises Cotton technology development, Mini – Mission II related to seeds Technology transfer, Mini – Mission III cotton lint preparation and Mini – Mission IV envisages branding of Indian cotton and its textiles and clothing products.

The new TMC aims to raise the area under cotton to 105 lakh hectare in 2016-17 from 118.77 lakh hectare in the preceding year. The yield was estimated at 304 kg per hectare in 1999 – 2000 and is slated to increase to 568 kg per hectare during the same period. Production is projected to increase to 351 lakh bales from 156 lakh bales.

The Indian textiles and clothing (T and C) industry is predominantly cotton based, and accounts for 4 per cent of GDP, 14 per cent of Industrial production, exports about one- third of T and C production earns 12 per cent attracted around Rs. 4 lakh cr investment during the last 15 years and created new jobs for 10 mn persons. Gujarat is the largest cotton producer in the country, its production having gone up from 30.50 lakh bales 2002-03 to 124 lakh bales in 2013-14.

Now look at the Indian cotton scenario, Cotton is currently cultivated in around 12 mn hectare. We have the largest share of 36 per cent to 38 per cent in global cotton acreage. The sub-tropical climate provides ideal conditions for cultivating wide varieties of cotton that could be used to produce coarse superfine yarn (2s to 200s).

India ranks 24th to 30th in global cotton yields despite using best of all available technologies. Even States like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have hundred per cent irrigation, best soils. But cotton hybrids and high input farming conditions rank 24th globally. Yields have stagnated, but the cost of cultivation has increased about three fold in the last 10 years. Fortunately, cotton commodity market prices were high after 2010 and farmers were able to obtain profits. However, it is important that new technologies are developed to enhance yields and reduce production cost.

A word about SIMA. It was started in 1933 by RK Shanmugam Chetty, the first Finance Minister of Independent India. It is the largest employers organisation, representing the entire textile value chain – from cotton research and development to garments / made ups / technical textiles. It plays a leading role in all policy making committees at the Central and State levels pertaining to the textile industry. SIMA has been partnering with the Central Government in framing all policies relating to the textile industry and playing a pivotal role in fuelling the growth of the industry that provides jobs to over 105 mn people, especially rural masses and women across the country.