Two years ago, when Hiralal was approached by a team of scientists to alter the dynamics of farming in his 1.4-hectare field, he decided to give it a try. Some of his farmer friends tried to dissuade him. “Don’t let go of your traditional farming wisdom for what these people say,” they would caution. He didn’t yield, and today the 45-year-old from Kalesara village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan is perhaps India’s best cotton farmer. The reason: He produced 1,713 kg of cotton per hectare — way above the national average of 565 kg — for the marketing year that ended September 30.
A few miles away, Ashok Dhanker from Jagpura village also dumped the traditional method of growing just around 18,000 plants a hectare and decided to scale up. He reaped similar fortunes — 1,407 kg per hectare. When they were felicitated by the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) at a kisan mela in Ajmer’s Picholia village on Friday, amid applause from hundreds of farmers, local leaders and industry executives, they could barely speak, but the glitter in their eyes was unmatched.
The people of Rajasthan’s dry plains say their Hiralals and Dhankers have made them proud. Having long struggled to match up to its more illustrious neighbours — Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana — in fibre farming due to a shortage of water and lack of awareness, Rajasthan now produces the most cotton per hectare in India, an average of 785 kg (in 2013-14), versus 758 kg in close competitor Gujarat and 22% higher than a year earlier, notwithstanding the erratic weather.
Behind the state’s success story lies good farm practices, a novel sowing method called high-density planting and a model public-private partnership. When PD Patodia, chairman of the standing committee on cotton at CITI, sold the idea of training and working with farmers to step up cotton productivity via PPP to then chief minister Vasundhara Raje some six years ago, she was quick to act.
The state agriculture extension machinery was asked to pitch in fully. Germany’s Bayer Crop Sciences joined hands with CITI-Cotton Development and Research Association to share the expenses, and the Rajasthan Textile Mills Association, too, chipped in. The result was a team of dedicated scientists and field monitoring scouts under the leadership of Patodia and SA Ghorpade, adviser at CITI-CDRA, who would guide farmers on best practices throughout the season along with state farm department officials.
“When we first proposed it to the state government in 2008-09, the state’s cotton production was just 7.5 lakh bales. In 2013-14, it was 14 lakh bales, even though it was a terrible year in terms of weather and almost 20-30% of the crop was adversely affected,” said Patodia.
CITI-CDRA introduced the high-density planting concept in four Rajasthan districts — Ajmer, Nagaur, Pali and Jodhpur — in 2012-13, taking its cue from the huge success in countries like Brazil and Australia with yield levels in excess of 1,500 kg per hectares.
In such a method, farmers can ideally grow up to 41,668 plants and, in certain cases, even 83,333 plants in a hectare, compared with an average of 18,518 traditionally, through optimum utilisation of space. Although each of the plants is shorter and yields less bolls than a traditional one, it better withstands adverse natural conditions like storm and prevents bolls from falling, driving up yield. The higher number of plants also contributes substantially to the jump in productivity per hectare — yield went up by 34% in 2013-14, compared with the traditional planting system, despite damages to the crop from extremely rough weather. If the weather remains conducive, as the field tests in 2012-13 showed, the yield could go up in the range of 47-92%, depending on location and soil quality.
As much as 57,789 hectares were brought under the purview of the CITI-CDRA project with 42,400 participating farmers. Since one progressive farmer teaches some others outside the project, its actual reach would be even higher.
The benefit of higher raw material production spilled over to other textile segments as well, as more ginning factories came in, much to the delight of farmers. “We see at least a 20% rise in the number of ginning mills in the state since 2008-09. One of the reasons is earlier, the state mills were buying almost 80% of their requirements from neighbouring states like Gujrat, incurring, on an average, expenses of Rs 700 per candy on transportation. Today, the situation is reversed. Around 80% of mills’ requirement is met through supplies within the state,” said Ghorpade.
This has been of great help to the textile industry in the state. Its textiles exports went up by 9% in the 2013-14 fiscal to Rs 2,400 crore a year before despite a slowdown in key markets, better than some of the other states.