Date:28/09/2006 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/seta/2006/09/28/stories/2006092804231600.htm
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Economic viability of organic cotton

OVER THE last decades, many conventional farmers have been facing declining cotton yields despite increasing application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Sustaining production

Organic farming could be a way out of this situation, provided it effectively improves the ecological and socio-economic sustainability of cotton production.

To investigate the economic viability of organic cotton farming and its impact on farmers, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the WWF Switzerland mandated the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) conducted a detailed study of the Maikaal bioRe project in central India.

Over a period of two years, an Indo-Swiss research team collected and compared agronomic data of 60 organic and conventional farms.

According to the study conducted by the team the total labour inputs are not significantly higher in organic cotton fields.

Pest management

The research team noted that the variable production costs were 13-20 per cent lower in organic cotton.

This is mainly due to 40 per cent lower costs for inputs (seeds, manures, pest management items). The requirement for taking up loans is thus far less in organic farms.

While organic farmers invested more time in weeding, they required less time for pest management.

Although it is generally assumed that yields in organic farming are lower, average cotton yields in the monitored organic fields were even 4-6 per cent higher in the two years of observation.

While progress in organic production methods allowed achieving cotton yields that were on a par with those in conventional farms, yields of most rotation crops were still lower.

Biggest obstacle

According to the results, the biggest obstacle in converting to organic cotton farming is the initial drop in yields, resulting in lower incomes during the first 1-3 years of conversion.

To further improve the performance of cotton based organic farming systems, efforts in developing production methods and in improving marketing options are needed, especially for the crops grown in rotation with cotton.

MAHESH RAMAKRISHNAN

International Competence Centre for Organic
Agriculture (ICCOA)
Bangalore

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