Transitioning towards resilient cotton farming systems in India

2018-07-16T14:22:20+00:00July 16th, 2018|Categories: Insights|Tags: , , |0 Comments

India was the largest producer of raw cotton in 2017/2018 representing approximately 25% of total global production with almost 6.21 million metric tons (Statista, 2018). Cotton farming provides livelihoods for approximately 5.8 million Indian farmers and more than 50 million Indians depend indirectly on this fiber for their livelihoods (IDH & True Price, 2016). In 2010, Greenpeace reported that 80 to 90% of Indian farmers are smallholders with less than 5 acres ( or 2 hectares) and that 65% rely on rainfed agriculture (Tirado, 2010, p. 2). Despite the importance of the cotton sector to the economy of India, yields have remained sub-par compared to other major producing countries such as Australia, China, Brazil as well as its neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh (index mundi, 2018). This is in part due to the prevalence of rainfed cotton cultivation, making the sector vulnerable to rainfall variability which is expected to be exacerbated by climate change (Shinde & Modak, 2013). Some regions of India have felt rainfall deficits of approximately 50% compared to long-term trends (Murtugudde, 2017).  Enabling resilient cotton farming will require a concerted effort to understand the challenges faced by Indian cotton farmers and their coping strategies to establish more effective, flexible and adaptable support in the form of agricultural extension services, training programs and/or policies. Measuring the resilience of cotton farming operations provides a starting point to take the necessary and appropriate steps for farmers to effectively adapt to change.

COSA, with the support of the Ford Foundation, recently published a set of indicators to pragmatically measure the resilience of farming operations (Serfilippi & Giovannucci, 2017). A subset of these indicators was tested in the summer of 2017 on 970 cotton farmers from eight villages in the Adoni Mandal of the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. This region is notorious for being dry and receiving only a little precipitation per year, primarily during the monsoon season. Not surprisingly, the farmers reported that extremely scarce rain and droughts were by far the shocks most likely to occur, followed by a sharp drop in cotton prices, extreme rainfall and pest outbreaks. When asked to identify and rank the top 3 negative shocks that greatly reduced their household’s income, assets, and/or consumption in the last production year, the farmers identified (in order of importance): 1) extremely scarce rain, 2) a sharp drop in cotton prices, 3) drought, 4) pest outbreaks and 5) heat waves. These results were corroborated by pointing out that extremely scarce rain and drought events occurred significantly more times in the last five years compared to the other negative events.

Their main coping strategies in times of difficulty are to postpone debt payment, switch to other crops or engage in wage labor. Although these strategies may stave off immediate hardships, debts can quickly spiral out of control, cultivating a new crop brings about new challenges typically not immune to moisture deficits and starting new wage labor often entails time away from the farming. Even more troubling is that 99.8% of the farmers surveyed stated that they were not able to anticipate the major negative shocks they faced in the last production year.

Establishing better systems to anticipate and communicate potential shocks and stresses faced by the cotton farmers of the Adoni Mandal along with devising better coping strategies would clearly go a long way to enabling more resilient cotton farming in the region. The importance of measuring farming resilience cannot be overstated as it represents an important step towards enabling effective farming adaptation to changing contexts and uncertainties. For this reason, the COSA is committed to enabling a transition towards resilient farming operations in India, and globally.



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index mundi. (2018). Cotton Yield by Country in KG/HA – Country Rankings. Retrieved June 27, 2018, from

Murtugudde, R. (2017, September 4). What’s Causing So Many Changes to India’s Monsoons? The Wire. Retrieved from

Serfilippi, E., & Giovannucci, D. (2017). Simpler Resilience Measurement (p. 39). Philadelphia, United States: Committee on Sustainability Assessment & Ford Foundation. Retrieved from

Shinde, S. S., & Modak, P. (2013). 2.14 – Vulnerability of Indian Agriculture to Climate Change. In R. A. Pielke (Ed.), Climate Vulnerability (pp. 139–152). Oxford: Academic Press.

Statista. (2018). Leading cotton producing countries worldwide in 2017/2018 (in 1,000 metric tons). Retrieved June 27, 2018, from

Tirado, R. (2010). Picking Cotton agriculture – The choice between organic and genetically-engineered cotton for farmers in South India (Campaigning for Sustainable Agriculture No. GRL-TN 03/2010) (p. 24). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Greenpeace Research Laboratories.