Spirit of videshi

By turning our backs on swadeshi, we have left cotton farmers in the lurch

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- students of Indian agriculture are brainwashed to believe that Indian cotton is of inferior quality. They are never told that 'Indian cotton' is not really Indian. It is actually American cotton used in mismatched Indian conditions. Originally the British rulers promoted this cotton in India because their machines in Lancashire were unsuitable for Indian cotton but failed.

But the agricultural establishment in independent India succeeded in what the colonial rulers failed. American cotton now constitutes 70 per cent of the cotton crop from a mere 3 per cent at the time of independence. As a result, Indian cotton farmers have to live with low levels of productivity 500 kg per hectare (ha), compared to 1,100 kg per ha that Chinese farmers get from their indigenous Chinese variety. This low productivity, coupled with rising input costs, force many farmers to take their own lives.

As the cotton growers' profitability goes down, the textile and garment industry throw up a few new millionaires every year, at the cost of the farmer. The favours doled out to these industries are understandable, they are potential forex earners. The situation becomes bleaker because 20,000 us cotton farmers armed with us $4 billion in subsidy can offer raw cotton at a price that is 40 per cent lower than Indian production cost.

The cotton farmers' problems are too complex to be solved simply by announcing more credit. Following our colonial rulers, we discarded indigenous seed to match available technology. Not much institutional work has been done to create technology that can match indigenous raw cotton. The time has come to create technology and work on seed varieties more friendly to Indian conditions. Farmers in Gujarat and Rajasthan have developed seeds that suit Indian conditions. The search for suitable local hybrids gains more importance because American cotton is a real water guzzler. A quick look at the balance of the virtual water trade through cotton (see p 56), clearly shows that China and the us end up receiving more virtual water than they give. But India is a big loser of water in this regard.

Gandhi's charkha was not a mere symbol for swadeshi. It took care of local cotton varieties, provided more decentralised employment possibilities, and above all good quality of cotton. We may have deviated far away from the spirit of swadeshi along our way to higher growth.

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