Native cotton is gaining fresh currency and regaining its lost ground in small measures. Groups like Sahaja Samruddha – an organisation working for conserving traditional and indigenous variety of crops – have networked with farmers in Karnataka, besides establishing links with similar like-minded organisations across the country.
It has collaborated with Tula, a non-profit social enterprise, which encourages farmers to cultivate 'desi' cotton organically. It purchases the materials from the cultivators, weaves and manufactures fabric, and sells them to ensure that farmers get the best price.
The three-day Desi Cotton Mela, held in Mysuru recently, is expected to open up the market for the farmers while providing an alternative and diverse range of clothing for the consumers. "There was a steady decline of the native variety of cotton due to the government support for transgenic Bt cotton. But in the last few years, native varieties like Jayadhar is back in the reckoning and is being cultivated in parts of central Karnataka like Gadag, Hubballi, Koppal & Haveri," said Krishnaprasad of Sajaha Samruddha. There are more than 100 farmers in the Sahaja Samruddha network cultivating Jayadhar variety, he added. There are similar network of farmers in the Vidharba region of Maharasthra cultivating Dhanavantri variety and Karunganni cotton in Tamil Nadu. "Historically, the Indian subcontinent was famous for cotton, but now 'desi' cotton cultivation is less than 3% of the total production," according to Ananthasayana of Tula. But we are talking to the urban consumers on the economics involved and also creating a market for it, adding that millets too were in a similar situation 10 years ago. Besides, there is a preference for native cotton cultivated organically for surgical & medical use, but this market has not been fully exploited, say the promoters who are confident that native cotton has a better future in years ahead.
A majority of native cotton varieties are dry land crops and do not require much water and hence are resistant to drought. The cost of cultivation is less and the yield and returns surpass the input cost, which will help sustain farmers, according to Krishnaprasad of Sahaja Samruddha. "This is true of cotton and millets," he added.