Cotton production in Bangladesh has been low as farmers prefer other cash crops to the white fibre, completely missing out on at least a $3 billion domestic market.
The country managed to produce only 177,000 bales of cotton last year, which was insufficient to meet the demand of even a single spinning mill.
This represents nearly one per cent of the total annual consumption of the key textile raw material of nine million bales. Some 218kg make a bale.
This has made Bangladesh one of the largest importers of cotton as it needs to feed the local apparel industry, the second-largest in the world.
Spinners, millers and other users have to spend more than $3 billion annually to buy cotton from India, the US, African countries, Australia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Central Asian nations.
Currently, cotton is cultivated on 45,000ha of land in about 40 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts.
The output has increased by 10,000 bales annually over the last five years, but the quantity has not touched the 200,000 mark.
Cotton Development Board (CDB) executive director Md Akhteruzzaman blames the scarcity of arable land, emphasis on food production, and lower price of cotton for the farmers’ lack of interest in growing the textile raw material.
Parvez Anwar, head of the Department of Agronomy of Bangladesh Agricultural University, said many other crops are grown during the cultivation period of cotton.
Farmers also do not have the confidence to grow them abundantly as they do not get ready markets and better prices, he said.
However, cotton prices have been better in the last two years, both in global and local markets, and it is expected that the higher rate will continue in the near future as demand is rising.
In Bangladesh, good quality cotton is selling at 3,600 taka ($41.80) per maund (40kg) compared to 2,200-2,400 two years ago.
Globally, cotton was sold at $1.26-$1.27 per pound on Saturday, which was 81.35-81.58 US cents on February 5 last year, thanks to the faster recovery of the global supply chain from the coronavirus pandemic.
“So, it is expected that farmers will increase the acreage of cotton production,” said Akhteruzzaman.
The CDB is expecting to lift the cotton output to 200,000 bales by 2022 and 300,000 bales in the next five years, as part of its plans to grow the crop on 100,000ha by 2030 and meet 10 to 15 per cent of the local demand.
Currently, the CDB is implementing three major initiatives to give a boost to cotton production and improve quality.
The board is executing the extended project for cotton production involving 1.50 billion taka, a capacity-building project involving 630 million taka, and a donor-backed project to improve the quality of the raw material involving 80 million taka.
The state-run organisation has teamed up with a UK-based international clothing brand to enhance the capacity of 15,000 farmers under a project. The CDB mainly provides technical support.
Moreover, there are two more projects under the CDB aimed at alleviating poverty through cotton cultivation in hilly areas such as Bandarban and providing soft loans to farmers.
A minimum support price (MSP) can be a good tool to motivate farmers to grow more cotton, said Akhteruzzaman.
Khorshed Alam, managing director of Little Group, a cotton importer and consumer, says although the quality of the local variety of cotton is better than in other countries, the volume is small and the users cannot rely on domestic production.
Monsoor Ahmed, CEO of the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association, a platform for spinners and millers, also said farmers have to be given MSP in order to accelerate cotton production.
The demand for cotton is growing rapidly as Bangladesh is a major hub for making cotton-based garments, he said.
In 2022, Bangladesh will import more than nine million bales of cotton, up from 8.5 million bales last year, on the back of a nearly 30 per cent growth in garment exports in keeping with the recovery of the global supply chain.
THE DAILY STAR (BANGLADESH)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK