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Theni cotton cultivators seek govt help to recoup

Theni flourished as a centre for the cultivation of cotton with a specific variety ‘MCU 5’ known for its quality.

Theni cotton cultivators seek govt help to recoup

A view of cotton field in Theni

MADURAI: Once a thriving cotton hub, Theni has lost ground and is seeking help from the government for a recoup. Theni contributed immensely to the cotton sector 15 years ago with the help of around 40 cotton ginning mills and 16 cottonseed oil mills.

The hub today has only 10 ginning mills and a couple of oilseed mills. Stakeholders are pinning their hopes on the support of the government to regain lost ground in this part of Tamil Nadu which is blessed with fertile lands. Theni flourished as a centre for the cultivation of cotton with a specific variety ‘MCU 5’ known for its quality. In those days, about 30,000 to 40,000 bags of harvested cotton were transported every week to Theni for the ginning process. “Despite having an advantageous position, Theni is not able to tap the needs of the cotton business,” sources said.

Tamil Nadu has about 60 per cent of the total spinning mills in India. Yet, the State is struggling with a drastic shortfall in cotton bales supply. “In order to bridge the shortfall, cotton is being arranged from north India,” KSK Natesan, president, Theni District Chamber of Commerce, told DT Next on Sunday. “Long staple varieties unique to Theni, Dindigul, Rajapalayam and Sankarankovil areas can be promoted by the government to meet this shortfall,” he said.

“Many gave up cotton cultivation in the region as it was vulnerable to pests causing damage to the crop, leading to a loss in yield,” said Pon Katchikannan, president of Periyar- Vaigai Paasana Vivasayigal Sangam, Surulipatti. Cultivators point out how ‘Varalaxmi’ cotton variety was grown largely in 1990’s as a lucrative crop for farmers. Farmers expect incentives from the government to regain the lost cultivation.

Varalaxmi, a hybrid variety cultivated from 1982 to 1986, was a high yielding six-month bumper crop yet highly pest resistant, said Natrayan Selvakumar of Erasakkanaickanur village in Chinnamanur block. Around 30 per cent of the district is covered by black soil and cotton is predominantly raised from 1975 to 1980 in parts of Theni, Andipatti and Myladumparai, said A Arumugam, Assistant Director of Horticulture, Theni.

On a positive note, cotton cultivation in the Theni district is on a gradual rise from 2020- 21, sources pointed out. In that year cotton was cultivated in 1,850 hectares, which rose to 2,847 ha in 2021-22 and 4,232 ha during 2022-23. But it was a whopping 8,000 hectares of cultivation 15 years back. According to R Veeraputhiran, former Head, Cotton Research Station, Srivilliputhur, cotton cultivation is on the decline all over the State. From 4.25 lakh hectares, the cultivation has shrunk to 1.5 lakh hectares in Tamil Nadu. “There are various factors for this decline, including how cotton cultivation is a tedious process for the farmers,” said S Mathiazhagan, former Assistant Director (Quality Control), Virudhunagar, Department of Agriculture. “A cultivator has to use pesticides up to 16 times to protect the crop,” he said. “The government should accord priority to cotton production on par with food grains,” said Mathiazhagan.

J Praveen Paul Joseph
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