The History of Cotton Production

The origins of cotton production and use go back to ancient times. The first evidence of cotton use was found in India and Pakistan, and dates from about 6,000 B.C. Scientists believe that cotton was first cultivated in the Indus delta.

The species used in ancient South Asia were Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium arboretum which originated in India and Africa. At a later date cotton production spread to Mesopotamia, Egypt and Nubia. It was only in the 1st century, when Arab traders brought their cotton products to Italy and Spain, that the fiber was introduced in Europe. During the late medieval time, cotton also became known in northern Europe.

By the end of the 16th century, cotton was already cultivated throughout the warmer regions in Asia and America. The newly discovered species were introduced to Africa in the 18th century and later spread to India, Pakistan and China, where they replaced traditional varieties.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the invention of the spinning machine (1738) and the cotton gin (1793), providing a great boost to cotton manufacture, first of all in England. Manchester acquired the nickname “cottonopolis” due to the cotton industry’s omnipresence within the city.

Till the middle of the 19th century, India was the main provider of cotton fiber for Europe’s cotton industries. By then, cotton had become the backbone of the southern North American economy, which was essentially based on slavery work. Due to the higher quality of American cotton (longer and stronger fibers) and its cheaper price, European textile manufacturers started purchasing cotton from American plantations.

In China, today’s ICE Futures U.S. (formerly the New York Board of Trade, New York Cotton Exchange)world largest cotton producer, cotton was introduced about 2000 years ago. In the late 1970ties, the Chinese Government took measures to encourage cotton production by subsidizing inputs and offering procurement funds. As a consequence, cotton production rose from 10 million bales in 1979 to nearly 29 million bales in 1984 (1 bale = 500 lbs or 226.8 kg).


Cotton is a basic necessity of every one’s life. It plays a very vital role in the Indian economy. It is generally termed as a major cash crop of India. It sustains the Indian cotton textile industry, which constitutes the single largest segment of organized industries in the country.

It provides gainful employment to millions of people from cotton background engaged in harvesting, plucking, and marketing, ginning and pressing of cotton. It is among the leading crops since it is labour-intensive, particularly as it needs season-long plant protection measures and also because it is harvested not once, as in the case of most other crops, but four of five times in a season. It also contributes substantially to the country’s foreign trade. More importantly, it is the highest earner of net foreign exchange, contributing over 30% from textile industry, which is fully dependent on Indian Raw Cotton. The economic significance of cotton and cotton industry in India is so great that Mahatma Gandhi based his freedom movement on cotton economics. It also made late Pdt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime minister of Independent India to observe thus:
“The History of cotton and of textiles is not only the history of the growth of modern industry in India, but in a sense it might be considered the history of India during the past one hundred years.”
The dominant role of cotton in the country’s economy is known at all. Apart from being the provider of a basic necessity of life that is clothing, next only to food, cotton also contributes in no small measure to the country’s foreign exchange earnings by the way of exports in the form of raw cotton, intermediate products such as yarn and fabrics to ultimate finished products in the form of garments, made ups and knitwear. It provides livelihood to the millions of people of the country. In short, cotton is a commodity of vital importance in our national economy. It is however strange that precise estimate of the crop of such economic importance is difficult to obtain in view of conflicting figures of the crop given out by different agencies. This puts in jeopardy decision-making with reference to export/import by the government and other decisions.

Cotton Cultivation in India: Conditions, Types, Production and Distribution

Cotton is the most important fibre crop not only of India but of the entire world. It provides the basic raw material (cotton fibre) to cotton textile industry  

Its seed (binola) is used in vanaspati industry and can also be used as part of fodder for milch cattle to get better milk.

Conditions of Growth:

Cotton is the crop of tropical and sub-tropical areas and requires uniformly high temperature varying between 21°C and 30°C. The growth of cotton is retarded when the temperature falls below 20°C. Frost is enemy number one of the cotton plant and it is grown in areas having at least 210 frost free days in a year.

The modest requirement of water can be met by an average annual rainfall of 50- 100 cm. However, it is successfully grown in areas of lesser rainfall with the help of irrigation. About one-third of the total area under cotton cultivation is irrigated. In the year 1988-89 an area of 24 77 lakh hectares out of a total of 73.43 lakh hectares i.e. 33.73 per cent of the total area under cotton was irrigated.

About 80 per cent of the total irrigated area under cotton is in Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Moist weather and heavy rainfall at the time of boll-opening and picking are detrimental to cotton as the plant becomes vulnerable to pests and diseases. High amount of rainfall in beginning and sunny and dry weather at ripening time are very useful for a good crop.

Cotton is a kharif crop which requires 6 to 8 months to mature. Its time of sowing and harvesting differs in different parts of the country depending upon the climatic conditions. In Punjab and Haryana it is sown in April-May and is harvested in December-January that is before the winter frost can damage the crop.

In the peninsular part of India, it is sown upto October and harvested between January and May because there is no danger of winter frost in these areas. In Tamil Nadu, it is grown both as a kharif and as a rabi crop.

Here the rainfall occurs after September and cotton is sown in October. The irrigated crop is sown in January-February. Most of the crop is grown mixed with other kharif crops such as maize, jowar, ragi, sesamum, castor, groundnut and some vegetables.

Cotton cultivation is closely related to deep black soils (regur) of the Deccan and the Malwa Plateaus and those of Gujarat. It also grows well in alluvial soils of the Satluj-Ganga Plain and red and laterite soils of the peninsular regions. Cotton quickly exhausts the fertility of soil. Therefore, regular application of manures and fertilizers to the soils is very necessary.

Picking is a crucial period from the labour point of view. Since picking of cotton is not yet mechanized, a lot of cheap and efficient labour is required at this time. Normally the picking season is spread over a period of about three months.

Types of Cotton:

Three broad types of cotton are generally recognised on the basis of the length, strength and structure of its fibre.

1. Long staple cotton:

It has the longest fibre whose length varies from 24 to 27 mm. The fibre is long, fine and shining. It is used for making fine and superior quality cloth. Obviously, it fetches the best price. There has been rapid progress in the production of long staple cotton since Independence. About half of the total cotton produced in India is a long staple. It is largely grown in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

2. Medium staple cotton:

The length of its fibre is between 20 mm and 24 mm. About 44 per cent of the total cotton production in India is of medium staple. Rajasthan, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra are its main producers.

3. Short staple cotton:

This is inferior cotton with fibre less than 20 mm long. It is used for manufacturing inferior cloth and fetches less price. About 6 per cent of the total production is of short staple cotton. U.P., Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab are its main producers.


India has the largest area under cotton cultivation in the world though she is the world’s third largest producer of cotton after China and the USA. Currently it is grown over 6 per cent of the net sown area. Table 24.14 shows the trends in the production of cotton in India.

Table 24.14 Production, Area and Yield of Cotton in India:


























Production (Million bales)













Area (Million hectares)













Yield (kg/hectare)













It is clear from the table that there has been practically no increase in area under cotton except in the decade between 1950-51 and 1960-61 when it increased from 5.8 million hectares in 1950-51 to 7.6 million hectares in 1960-61. Some increase in area under cotton cultivation was recorded in 1990s and it reached the maximum of 9.3 million hectares in 1998-99.

A consistent decline in area under cotton cultivation has been noticed from 9.1 million hectares in 2001-02 to 7.6 million hectares in 2003-04. However, there have been four and a half-fold increase in production and three and a half-fold increase in yield between 1950-51 and 2003-04. This clearly depicts the success in efforts to increase production and productivity without any addition to area under cotton cultivation.

This has been made possible due to large scale commercial cultivation of high yielding hybrid varieties in long and extra long staples. In spite of the three fold increase in the yield; our yield of 307 kg/hectare is just half of the world average and far below the yield of 731 kg/hectare in the USA, 756 kg/hectare in Pakistan and 816 kg/hectare in Egypt.

Almost 65 per cent of the area under cotton is rainfed with erratic and poorly distributed rains during the cropping season. It is subjected to severe attack of pests and diseases.

Despite the increase in production, cotton for quite some time is experiencing a plateau in productivity which needs to be broken.


India has the sole distinction of growing all the four cultivated species of cotton and their intra- and inter-specific hybrids. In India, cotton is grown in three distinct agro-ecological zones, viz., Northern (Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan), Central (Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh) and Southern zone (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka).

1. Maharashtra:

Maharashtra is the largest producer and produces 29.78 per cent of the total cotton production of India. Maharashtra is a traditional producer of cotton. The lava soil of deccan plateau is world renowned for cotton production and is popularly known as the black cotton soil. Over 80 per cent of the production comes from Khandesh, Vidarbha and Marathwada regions comprising the districts of Yavatmal, Nanded, Amravati, Parbhani, Wardha, Jalgaon, Akola, Buldhana, Nagpur, Dhule, etc.

2. Gujarat:

Accounting for 19.33 per cent of the total production and 21.33 per cent of the cotton area of the country, Gujarat is the second largest cotton producing state of India. The average yield is 1.8 quintals/hectare which is almost the same as the national average. With ‘black cotton soil’ 1.5 metre deep in some parts and with 80-100 cm annual rainfall Gujarat provides favourable conditions for cotton cultivation.

Two-thirds of the production comes from the Gujarat plains including Bharuch, Surendemagar, Vadodra and Ahmedabad districts. Mahesana, Kheda, Sabarkantha, Surat, Amreli and Panchmahals are other major producers.

3. Andhra Pradesh:

Andhra Pradesh accounts for 12.46 per cent of production and 10.47 per cent of hectarage of India. Two-thirds of the production of Andhra Pradesh comes from two districts, namely Guntur and Prakasam. Adilabad, Kumool and Anantapur contribute the rest.

Fibre Crops

4. Punjab:

Punjab has slipped from first position in 1990-91 to fourth position in 2002-03 as a producer of cotton in India. This state has the distinction of giving highest yield of 4.1 quintals/hectare (2002-03) which is more than double the national average. This is due to high yields only that Punjab is able to produce 12.42 per cent of total cotton of India from just 5.86 per cent land under cotton.

Punjab has also the distinction of producing some of the best qualities of cotton in India. All this has been made possible due to fertile alluvial soils, a close network of irrigation facilities, heavy dose of fertilizers and pesticides and above all the enterprising spirit of the farmers.

Seeds of ВТ cotton, which were introduced in some parts of the state, are showing good results. This variety of seeds has the advantage over other hybrid seeds as it needs less use of pesticides. It requires just three to five applications while other varieties had to be sprayed around 15-20 times—resulting in savings of around Rs. 2,500-3,000 per acre. Punjab produced 10.83 lakh bales (each bale of 170 kg).

Most of the cotton production comes from the Malwa region of the state. This region contributes nearly 95 per cent of Punjab’s cotton. Cotton is known as “white gold” in this region. Bhatinda, Faridkot, Firozepur and Sangrur are the major producing districts and account for over three fourths of Punjab’s total production of cotton. Ludhiana, Muktsar, Moga, Mansa and Fatehgarh Sahib are other cotton producing districts.

5. Haryana:

Accounting for 11.91 per cent production and 6.77 per cent of hectarage, Haryana is the fifth largest producer of cotton in India. In the year 2002-03, Haryana produced 11.38 lakh bales. The state has the second highest yield of 3.4 quintals/hectare in the country next only to that of the neighbouring Punjab.

About 80 per cent of the production comes from Hissar, Sirsa and Fatehabad districts which are contiguous to the major cotton producing districts of Punjab. Like Punjab, most of the production is from the American long staple varieties. Bhiwani, Jind and Rohtak and Ambala are other producing districts.

6. Madhya Pradesh:

This state suffers from low yields (only 1.2 quintals/hectare). More than 80 per cent of the production comes from Malwa where there are vast tracts of lava soil. East Nimar, West Nimar, Ujjain, Shajapur, Dewas, Dhar, Ratlam, Rajgarh, Indore, and Bhopal are the main producers.

7. Karnataka:

This state produces 4.22 per cent cotton of India from 5.13 per cent of India’s area under cotton cultivation. The North Karnataka plateau is the main area of cotton cultivation. Dharwad, Raichur, Bellary and Gulbarga are the main producing districts.

8. Rajasthan:

Rajasthan accounts for about 2.9 per cent of the production and 5 per cent of the area of the country. The state has the lowest yield of only 1.1 quintals/hectare. Ganganagar is the most important cotton producing district of Rajasthan and accounts for over 80 per cent of the state’s production.

This district is contiguous to the cotton producing areas of Punjab and Haryana and enjoys the same advantages. The remaining cotton of Rajasthan comes from Bhilwara, Ajmer, Chittaurgarh, Jhalawar, Pali and Hanumangarh.

9. Tamil Nadu:

Tamil Nadu contributes about 1.55 per cent of the total production with about 1.11 per cent of the total area of the country. Coimbatore, Salem, Madurai, Tiruchirapalli, Ramnathapuram, South Arcot, Vallalur, Chengalpattu and Tirunelveli K. Bomman are the main producing districts.

Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, Meghalaya and Mizoram also produce cotton in small quantities.


India is an exporter as well as importer of cotton. India exports inferior quality cotton mainly to U.K., where it is mixed with superior quality cotton. India has been a big importer of superior quality long staple cotton mainly from the USA, Russia, UAR, Sudan and Kenya.

With the increase in domestic production of superior quality cotton, our imports have come down considerably, resulting in saving of the foreign exchange. India has achieved near self-sufficiency in the production of superior quality cotton. India exported 179.6 thousand tonnes of raw cotton worth Rs. 992 crore while the imports were 8.09 lakh tonnes worth Rs. 1,570 crore in 2003-04.

Considering the major provisions of World Trade Organisation (WTO) vis-a-vis India’s position, the points that emerge to be of immediate concern in enhancing the productivity and quality of Indian cotton and making it competitive globally are: (i) bringing down the cost of cultivation and enhancing its productivity and quality, (ii) rendering our cotton globally attractive, (iii) keeping Indian cotton free of trash content.