India: Organic cotton faces hurdles despite potential to capture global market

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CHENNAI, MAY 7:

 Sanjay Deshmukh, a farmer in his mid-30s in Kanzara village near Akola in Maharashtra, has not had a good experience with Bt cotton last year.

“The prolonged dry weather took a toll of my crop,” he says ruefully over phone from his village. “I may reduce the area under cotton this year but will continue to grow Bt cotton,” he says.

Ask him why he is not looking at non-Bt or organic cotton, he says: “I am comfortable with Bollgard.”

“They (farmers) may not be telling you the real reason. It has got to do with prices they fetch. There is no specialised market for organic cotton,” says a cotton scientist, who does not want to be identified.

“You need to pay them for the effort and lower yield compared to Bt or conventional cotton,” he says.

SCOPE FOR EXPORTS

That, in a nutshell, sums up why organic cotton is not picking up despite its potential as a major foreign exchange earner. In fact, ever since the Government began taking interest in promoting organic cotton, many farmers have opted out.

Traders and scientists agree that organic cotton has immense scope for exports. However, they say farmers are not compensated for the ordeal they undergo in cultivating organic cotton.

GROWING DEMAND

“The foremost problem is that we don’t have an organised market for organic cotton. They are mixed with ordinary cotton that comes to the market and end up being treated as ordinary variety,” says M.S. Kairon, former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research.

Kairon recently told a global cotton conference that demand for organic cotton is growing.

In India, some 1.28 lakh hectares are under organic cotton, while another 70,000 hectares are being converted to grow organic cotton. This represents a meagre quantity compared with the nearly 115 lakh hectares totally under all forms of cotton.

Madhya Pradesh leads in growing cotton accounting for 57 per cent of the total organic cotton, followed by Maharashtra (20 per cent).

But the International Cotton Advisory Committee, a body dedicated to promotion in cotton affairs, says that the global area under organic cotton dropped to 3.25 lakh hectares in 2010-11 from 4.60 lakh hectares the previous year.

Production in India, the top grower and exporter of organic cotton, during the period fell to 1.02 lakh tonnes from 1.95 lakh tonnes due to stringent control by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority. The yield dropped to 466 kg a hectare from 525 kg.

Organic cotton can be grown on a larger scale since there is great scope for exports.

According to Kairon, production costs for organic cotton are 20 per cent lower, while total crop input costs are 40 per cent lower.

According to scientists, farmers opt out from organic cotton because of stringent external and internal checks, while some farmers have been excluded since they had used synthetic fertilisers or pesticides.

Pollachi-based Appachi Cotton is one of those firms trying to promote organic cotton in a big way in the country.

Appachi pays a premium from the time farmers embrace organic cotton and has an on-going project in Mysore.

It also ensures that farmers comply with the norms fully by supplying seeds and nursing them through the entire process.

Kairon says farmers should be made to understand the pros and cons of organic farming and told that prices are determined by quality rather than by quantity.

The global cotton body says that Apeda’s strategy will begin to bear fruit soon and Indian organic cotton has better chances of capturing the global market. Organic cotton production could begin gathering momentum from this year, it says.

Source The Hindu Business Line

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