India: Cotton growers’ new initiative cuts fertiliser, water usage

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CHENNAI, APRIL 10:

Farmers in the country are veering towards growing cotton in a way that would cut fertiliser and water usage besides minimising the impact of crop protection measures such as pesticides.

Called the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), the cultivation aims at increasing yield while ensuring efficient use of water, lower pesticide and fertiliser consumption. At the same time, it also targets raising farmers’ income.

According to those behind the move, the initiative has helped improve yield by 20 per cent during 2010-11, while pesticide usage was cut by 60 per cent.

The farming, catching up in various parts of the country – mainly Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, has drawn support from retailers such as Wal-Mart, Tesco, Adidas, Sainsbury and Nike.

In this system of farming, growers continue to cultivate transgenic cotton. People behind the new movement say it is a step before the growers can be encouraged to grow organic cotton.

Mani Chinnaswamy of Appachi Cotton at Pollachi in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district said that the initiative will make people aware of the advantage of growing organic cotton.

According to the International Cotton Advisory Council, a global body that promotes cooperation in cotton affairs, India topped in the number of growers who took to the new initiative. Some 79,000 growers practised the friendly cultivation covering 1.12 lakh hectares during 2011-12 when the total area under cotton was a record 120 lakh hectares.

BCI said on its Web site that about 35,000 licensed farmers produced 1.88 lakh bales (of 170 kg each) during 2011-12. This was against 12,500 farmers producing nearly 59,000 bales the previous year.

Nine States are following this method with the involvement of corporates such as Ambuja Cement Foundation, Arvind Mills and World Wildlife Fund.

COMPULSORY SHIFT

However, Mani Chinnaswamy said that farmers are turning to better cotton initiative more out of compulsions.

“Farm input costs are rising. Prices of fertilisers and pesticides have increased forcing farmers to look at ways of cutting costs. For them, this initiative seems to be a better alternative,” he told Business Lineover phone.

M.S. Kairon, a former scientist with the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research, agrees with the view of farmers turning to alternative methods of cotton by default.

“Costs of Bt seeds have gone up by Rs 2,000 for a kg. Erratic weather is another reason,” he said.

Fertiliser prices, especially for non-urea, have gone up after the Centre decided to introduce nutrient based subsidy to cut the subsidy outgo. This resulted in prices rising by over 30 per cent in the last one year.

PREMIUM FOR FARMERS

Appachi Cotton is one of the firms involved in the initiative through contract farming. “We pay farmers a 10 per cent premium from the moment they join the initiative,” says Chinnaswamy.

Appachi Cotton plans to bring 1,500 hectares under organic cotton farming via the initiative on the foothills of the Western Ghats in H.D. Kote near Mysore in Karnataka. “Farmers grow non-Bt varieties of Bunny and DCH-32 varieties,” he said. Bunny is the most popular cotton variety in the country.

“We have formed farmer groups, made one of them leaders and educate them on various good farming practices,” Chinnaswamy said.

BT STILL FAVOURED

Not all seed manufacturers or farmers are aware of this development. Once the initiative catches up, demand for Bt cotton could drop.

“The new cotton initiative is something new that I am hearing about,” said a seed manufacturing unit owner, not wishing to be quoted. “We are producing only Bt cotton seeds,” he said.

Farmers such as Kapoor Singh of Dhani village near Bhiwani in Haryana still prefer to bet on transgenic cotton. “Last year, we planted cotton on 20 hectares but due to a prolonged dry spell we didn’t get a good yield. However, this year, too, we will go in for Bollgard cotton,” he said.

Sanjay Deshmukh of Kanzara village in Maharashtra’s Buldana district said that since his crop was also hit by dry weather last year, he would be cutting the area to 10 acres from 12.

But he is not sure if he would opt for Bt or the traditional cotton variety. “Let us see at the time of sowing. I will take a call then,” he said.

Cotton scientists say that farmers, in fact, could be encouraged to grow organic cotton since it would get a premium.

But there are problems, said Chinnaswamy.

“Farmers have to get certification for organic cotton. It costs money for that. Besides, there are issues such as traceability and residue issues. This is where better cotton initiative comes in as its objective is to lower the usage inputs,” he said.

Source: Business Line

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