India, the world's second biggest producer and exporter of cotton is loosing to its competitors in terms of yield. The situation is so alarming that the declining yield per hectare in India could turn the country into an importer within coming four to five years. The growing cotton consumption in the country can change the scenario even faster. If that happens, country's textile mills has to not only compete for supplies with top importers like China, Bangladesh etc but also loose out on competiveness as the local industry enjoys cheaper home grown cotton.
Despite highly remunerative cotton prices this season and rising acreage, India's cotton yields are down to about 475 kg per hectare which is 38 percent below the global average. While cotton plants need to be spaced widely during cultivation for hand picking, (in contrast to other leading growers) poor harvesting skills and lack of irrigation facilities, coupled with non-availability of quality seeds, are some major reasons for low productivity. To recall, in 2001-2 cotton season, India's share of area under the crop was 27 percent of the global acreage while production was just 12 percent of the world total. However, India’s cotton yield gradually increased and by 2007/08, yield had doubled to reach 554 kg per hectare. But productivity has fallen steadily since, declining 14 percent from the peak to current season’s yield of just 475 kg per hectare.
Among major cotton growing countries, Australia tops the productivity charts at 1,579 kg per hectare, followed by Brazil at 1,480 kg per hectares and China at 1,301 kg per hectare. Indian farmers to sow just about 12,000 plants per hectare as handpicking require more space. But in machine harvested countries, farmers plant up to 150,000 (in some places in China), while in Australian farmers reaches up to 85,000 plants per hectare.