Cotton Cultivation in India

MAR 13

Mains   > Agriculture   >   Crops   >   Cash crops


  • Cotton output has been steadily declining over the last decade, resulting in a severe imbalance in the textile industry.


  • Cotton productivity, which peaked at 566 kg lint per hectare in 2013-14, has been steadily declining since then, resulting in a cotton demand-supply imbalance and uncertainty in the cotton textile industry. 
  • According to the Agriculture Ministry’s second advance estimates, cotton output is estimated at 322 lakh bales (of 170 kg each), down by 48 lakh bales from the target of 370 lakh bales in 2022–23.


  • Cotton is one of the most important cash crops in India and accounts for around 25% of the total global fibre production.
  • Cotton constitutes 59% of the raw material consumption of the Indian textile industry.
  • It plays a major role in sustaining the livelihood of an estimated 6 million cotton farmers and 40-50 million people engaged in related activity such as cotton processing & trade.
  • Due to its economic importance in India, cotton is also termed as "White-Gold".

Climatic requirements for the growth of cotton:

  • Temperature: Between 21-30°C
  • Rainfall: Around 50-100cm.
  • Soil Type: Well-drained black cotton soil of Deccan Plateau.
  • India has the distinction of having the largest area under cotton cultivation in the world i.e. about 126.07 lakh hectares which is 37% of the world area.
  • Around 67% of India’s cotton is grown on rain-fed areas and 33% on irrigated area.
  • In India, majority of the cotton production comes from ten major cotton growing states, which are grouped into three diverse agro-ecological zones, as under:-
    • Northern Zone - Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
    • Central Zone - Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
    • Southern Zone - Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil nadu
  • Cotton cultivation has also gained momentum in small areas of non-traditional States such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tripura, etc.



  • Low Productivity: 
    • The Cotton Association of India (CAI) estimates that the per hectare productivity of cotton in India during 2018-19 stands at a mere 420.72 kgs, which is about 2.47 bales per hectare.
    • It is only one third of other major cotton producing countries. 
    • The evidence shows that the High-Density planting model has higher productivity than planting hybrids or Bt Cotton.
      • Currently, Indian cotton farmers sow bushy-type, long-duration hybrid cotton seeds at a large spacing accommodating fewer plants per acre and harvest seed cotton 3–4 times in a season spanning 180–280 days in different cotton growing zones.


  • Irrigation: 
    • Approximately 67% of India’s Cotton is produced on rain-fed areas.
    • The long-duration hybrids of India are more prone to changes in the rainfall pattern. The shorter duration variety could have reduced the dependence on irrigation.
  • Insect attack: 
    • The long duration hybrids are more vulnerable to damage from insect pests.
    • Also, there were reports of the resurgence of pink bollworms in India’s cotton fields.
    • The new tobacco streak virus disease and boll rot have recently threatened cotton farmers. The white-fly transmission of a severe cotton leaf curl virus and the sudden outbreak of para wilt have worsened the situation for North Zone farmers.
  • Seed production: 
    • For GM Cotton, farmers are forced to purchase seeds for each planting, as the seeds are designed to last for less than a year.
    • This gives an unfair advantage for seed companies in regulating the price and availability of seeds.
  • Excessive use of inputs:
    • Cotton alone uses more than half the chemical pesticides used in the entire agricultural production in India.
    • Rising demand compels cotton growers to adopt unsustainable methods, which may pose serious challenges to the environment through the excessive use of inputs like water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
  • Cost: 
    • The input cost is high resulting from seed purchase, fertilizers, ensuring irrigation etc.


  • The genetically modified pest-resistant variety of cotton was officially commercialised in India in 2002.
  • The aim was to protect farms from bollworm attacks, while decreasing the use of insecticides.
  • Indian cotton production received a big boost from 130 lakh bales in 2002 to 370 lakh bales in 2017 with the introduction of Bt cotton.
  • Increased cotton availability helped Indian cotton exports to flourish and reach $8 billion in 2017.
  • But the increase in production is not an outcome of improvement in productivity. It can be attributed to a range of factors like increase in area of production, including increased fertiliser use, better irrigation and extra attention by farmers who spent more money on expensive Bt cotton seeds.
  • Resistance to Bt has increased and now the Bt toxins are not toxic to sap-sucking insect species such as jassids, aphids, whiteflies, thrips, mealybugs, mirid bugs etc. These has caused crop failures and consequently increased pesticide usage.
  • Bt cotton has disallowed farmers from saving cotton seed, instead they are forced to buy new expensive hybrid seeds each year.
  • Higher risk involved with Bt Cotton has led to many suicides by cotton farmers.


  • High Density Planting System (HDPS): 
    • The cropping system of cotton must gradually undergo a systematic change to high density planting system (HDPS), which is a new cropping system of accommodating more plants per unit area supported by technological inputs for weed management, defoliation and mechanical picking.
    • Adopting High density planting of compact varieties with proper pest-management approaches can increase productivity. For example, some of the major cotton-producing countries such as Brazil (until 2012) and Turkey (up to the present) have achieved high productivity without the use of GM cotton by using alternative pest-management approaches.
  • Technology: 
    • Before extending next generation traits like Bt3, Bt4, Herbicide Tolerance etc impact assessment studies must be carried out.
  • Irrigation: 
    • Expansion of irrigation under Prime Minister’s Krishi Vikas Yojana is critical to overcome the dependence on rain water for irrigation.
  • Seed: 
    • Public sector production of seeds can check monopoly and profiteering by private companies.
    • Also, the government-led policy paradigm on cotton must give way to progressive, evidence-based policies on the pricing of seeds and safeguarding intellectual property, not only for biotech traits under the Indian Patent Act but also ensuring the rights of breeders and farmers under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA).
  • Policy: 
    • There is a need for better consultation in policy to deliberate upon the inclusion of socio-economic considerations while assessing risk associated with genetically modified crops.


Q. Discuss the conditions required for the cultivation of cotton and explain the issues associated with cotton cultivation in India.