Heavy cotton

  • 14/08/2006

The first consultation of the National Commission on Farmers was on cotton, where we brought together the farmer and the user. Our aim was that everyone in the cotton sector should prosper.

M S Swaminathan
National Commission on Farmers
But today, maximum numbers of farmer suicides are in cotton. On the other hand, the textile industry is happy because the multi-fibre arrangement has ended and there are new opportunities. There is something wrong with public policy.

Since small farmers are involved in cotton farming, the economics will not work, unless the productivity is increased. Research must ensure that farmers in rainfed areas benefit. So, the challenge is to magnify the power of very small producers through collectives. We also need to change our import-export policies so that this linkage improves.

Vijay Jawandhia
Nagpur-based farmer leader;
one of the founders of Shetkari Sangathana
When you compare our yields with China, the us or some other countries, please factor in other aspects as well. Check the agricultural inputs in these countries, the economic protection that’s accorded to farmers and then compare them with those provided by our government.

The problem in the cotton trade is that the industry, and not the farmers, dictate prices and policies. There have been instances when international prices were high and cotton exports were banned and when global prices came down, imports were liberalised.

I want to explain why suicides by cotton farmers were noticed after 1994. That was the time when the World Trade Organization regime started. The rupee was devalued, petroleum prices increased. In globalisation’s first phase, our low-cost economy became a high-cost economy. The fifth-pay commission saved our salaried class. But no commission was set up to increase remuneration for farmers.

Your (background) paper has rightly cited the example of China. We follow Chinese policies in almost every area. But why don’t we provide the kind of protectionist measures China provides to its cotton farmers? We appreciate that textile prices have to be competitive, but not at the cost of the farmer.

C D Mayee Chairman,
Agricultural Scientists’ Recruitment Board
I ’m a cotton farmer’s son from Vidarbha. I was completely against the monopoly procurement scheme. At one time the government bought at Rs 2,500 per 100 kg and suddenly brought the price down to Rs 1,750, leaving the farmers at the mercy of traders. This increased suicides. Between cotton and sugarcane, the only difference is that 65 per cent of cotton is grown in drylands while all sugarcane land is irrigated. In Vidarbha, the situation is even more precarious since only 3 per cent of the area is irrigated. If the government applies the same policies to sugarcane farmers as it has done to cotton farmers, they will also commit suicide.

While talking about the research agenda, too, we need to be very critical. For example, is their any necessity for the public sector to develop Bt genes? Or, for that matter, hybrids? We have the same old hybridisation programme, the same fertiliser agenda.

Gujarat’s productivity has increased from just over 175 kg per hectare (ha) in 2000-2001 to more than 722 kg per ha in 2005-2006, the highest in the country. If we all accept that the so-called illegal Bt has worked this wonder, which has made Gujarat’s farmer wealthier by Rs 5,000 crores, why are we banning Navbharat-151 (the strain that brought about the cotton revolution in Gujarat), while releasing varieties that farmers grow to commit suicide.
N P Mehta
Cotton breeder, who developed world’s first cotton hybrid and was instrumental in developing Navbharat-151
The cotton requirement for a shirt is 5 to 20 grammes, so paying a higher price to the farmer won’t really hit the textile industry. In fact, with increased exports more profit can be earned and shared.

Rajeev Baruah
Bio-Dynamic Association of India

Our research agenda has not changed in the last 20 years. We need drastic changes now.

G V Ramanjaneyulu
Executive director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
Every country will have a technology policy that suits its conditions, its affordability. But we don’t have that kind of system. We copied technology but not the regulatory systems, accountability systems or support systems. If us $4 billion subsidy is needed for 25,000 farmers to produce cotton worth $3 billion, the country’s government provides that sum.

But in India, 16 million farmers producing cotton get hardly us $10 million in subsidies. How can they adopt the same technology? This is the fundamental question. Today, the shirt I am wearing or the food you eat

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