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Research and innovation for sustainable cotton production in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the 2nd largest cotton importer and 4th largest consumer in the world (USDA, 2022). Textile sector of the country is the biggest industrial sector comprising 510 yarn and 901 fabric and 317 finishing mills, that contribute 13% of GDP (BTMA, 2022).The current investment in the primary textile sector is more than $15.00 billion. The demand for cotton fiber in Bangladesh is increasing day by day and 8.5 million bales (480 ponds/bale) of cotton fiber was imported by expending $3.0 billion in the year 2021 (Mirdha, 2021).

Research and innovation for sustainable cotton production in Bangladesh
Figure 1: Cotton is growing around 80 countries of the world and considered as an economic crop in many countries.

Cotton has been cultivating in this region from times immemorial and it was a strategic crop in the Chittagong hill tracts during Mughal era. In that period Chittagong hill tract was famous for cotton cultivation and the area was named as Karpas Mahal. Cotton was only source of tax collection of Mughal rulers in this region. The tribals of Chittagong Hill Tracts have been growing Gossypium arboreum (Deshi cotton/Comilla cotton) under Jhum cultivation practices with other crops like- rice, maize, millet, marpha, cucumber, pumkin, melon etc. Gossypium hirsutum, the new world medium staple cotton was introduced in the country after the liberation from Pakistan, when local textile industries were facing serious crisis on lack of cotton fiber.

The father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman established Cotton Development Board in 1972 to boost up cotton production in Bangladesh and cotton cultivation was started as experimental basis with the introduction of Deltapine-16, a cotton variety imported from United States of America (USA) in 1974-75 cropping season and commercial cultivation was started in 1976-77 in the farmer’s field.

Another cotton namely Phuti karpas (Gossypium arboreum var. neglecta) was grown around south of Dhaka, along the bank of the Meghna River. This cotton fiber was used to produce Muslin, a finest fabric famous during Mughal Era. Bangladesh Handloom Board in collaboration with Cotton Development Board and Rajshahi University revived Muslin fabric in the recent year.

Bombax ceiba (silk cotton), locally known as Shimul tula, a plant has also been grown from times immemorial all over the country. This short fiber cotton is used for making pillow, quilts, toys etc. and root of young Shimul tree is widely used for medicinal purpose in the rural areas of the country.

Cotton is growing around 80 countries of the world and considered as an economic crop in many countries. In Bangladesh, cotton is growing in the marginal areas of Char lands, drought prone Barind tracts and Hilly areas and Agroforestry areas by the small-scale farmers as a cash crop.

The cost benefit ratio of the crop is around 1:3, i.e. farmers can get 300% benefit by growing cotton. Cotton is not only the source of fiber but it is also the source of edible oil, oil cake, seed meal and other valuable by-products. Physiologically and morphologically cotton is a drought and saline tolerant crop and added considerable amount of biomass to the soil that improve soil fertility. Domestic production of cotton is only 1.95 lac bale that meets 2.30% of total commercial demand of the country.

Cotton is growing in 39 districts in the south-western, northern, central and eastern hills involving 70-80 thousand farmers. The key constraints in cotton expansion in the country are mainly long crop duration and competition with other high value crops. Recent achievements in cotton production in the country includes improvement in fiber quality and per unit yield by introducing hybrid cotton varieties and other management technologies.

Sustainable cotton is therefore grown in a way that maintain levels of production with minimal environmental impact is the key issue in cotton production in Bangladesh. Cotton farmers in the country are experiencing sustainable practices like- intercropping, relay cropping, integrated pest management (IPM), integrated crop management (ICM), integrated nutrient management system (INMS) etc.

Cotton Development Board encourages and provides training to the cotton farmers to follow sustainable production practices following GAP (Good Agricultural Practice). Also Cotton Connect, an international social enterprise, have been working on PSCP (Primark Sustainable Cotton Program) sustainable cotton production following REEL (Responsible Environment Enhanced Livelihoods) cotton code of conduct in south-western and northern regions of the country.

Figure 2: Cotton Development Board conducting cotton research since 1991 under breeding, agronomy, soil science, pathology and entomology discipline in 5 research centers.

Cotton Development Board conducting cotton research since 1991 under breeding, agronomy, soil science, pathology and entomology discipline in 5 research centers and 3 sub-centers located different places in the country. Also cotton research in Bangladesh was included in NARS (National Agricultural Research System) in 2012.

The main focus of cotton research in the country includes development of hybrid and short duration high yielding cotton varieties with desirable fiber characteristics, high density planting system to increase per unit yield, generation of agronomic management technologies to increase productivity, improving soil fertility by integrated management of organic and inorganic fertilizers, identification of bio-pesticides in controlling cotton insect pest and disease management.

Besides, research on stress management has been prioritized to expand cotton cultivation in the unfavorable eco-system i.e. hill, char, saline, drought and agroforestry areas combining the traditional knowledge and skill of farmers with biotechnology tools.

The key achievements of cotton research in Bangladesh are- release of 22 open pollinated and one hybrid cotton varieties, 28 technologies of agronomic management including intercropping, cropping pattern, weeding, high density planting etc., 12 technologies of soil management and 11 technologies of insect-pest and disease management.

Cotton Development Board and JK Agri-genetics of India signed MTA for introduction of Bt cotton in Bangladesh and also another MTA is under process with the Rallis India Ltd. to conduct biotechnological research, especially transgenic cotton. Cotton Development Board signed mutual understanding (MoU) with different universities, research organizations and international institutions i.e. BAU, SAU, BSMRAU, BARI, BINA, Nazilli Cotton Research Institute, Turkey and Cotton Research Institute, Egypt on research collaboration.

Farmers’ innovations

In Bangladesh cotton is facing high competition with a huge number of high value crops i.e. vegetables, flowers, fruits, spices, oil seeds, pulses in the areas where cropping intensity is more than 200. Most of the farmers in the high and medium high land areas are practicing 3 crops cropping pattern, dominated with rice-based cropping pattern, about 73% cultivated lands are occupied by rice crop.

Due to long duration cotton can’t fit to the existing 3 crops cropping pattern, so that most of the farmers allocated unfertile marginal lands for growing cotton, where other crops are not profitable to the farmers. Farmers in the intensive cultivation areas are practicing intercropping cotton with red amaranthus, danta, radish, jute leaf, coriander leaf, summer onion, cauliflower etc. to get extra benefit for sustainable production.

Also, cotton relayed in the field of arum, chilli, turmeric and pineapple during their maturity. In the orchard areas farmers are growing cotton during first 2-3 years in the newly established mango, lichi, guava, banana, papaya and orchards of other wooden plants.

Also, farmers’ innovations have been found in the production and management practices in cotton cultivation i.e. weed management, planting practices and seed bed preparation, soil moisture conservation & mulching, drainage & irrigation, nutrient management and insect-pest management. All the initiatives are introduced by the farmers through their indigenous or traditional knowledges for the sustainability of cotton production in Bangladesh.

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