So long, Suvin
The finest and longest staple cotton in the world, and part of India's cotton heritage, is on the verge of disappearing
FARMER M RAJAMANIKAM is not very taken by the fact that the cotton crop standing on his farm is considered the “king” of all cotton varieties in the world.He is cultivating it only because he gets an assured price of 10,000 to 11,000 per 100 kg.“Otherwise, the crop is riddled with problems.It takes 225 days to grow, requires lots of water, its cost of cultivation is very high and yield low, and it faces lots of pest attacks,”Rajamanikam says. He feels that if Appachi Cotton, a cotton ginning company in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, were to stop its contract farming agreement with him, he would have no reason to continue cultivation.
No wonder that Rajamanikam’s 1.21 hectares (ha) dedicated to Suvin cotton in Salem district’s Manivizudhan village are among just 607 ha in Tamil Nadu as well as India on which this superfine variety is being cultivated.In the 1980s,India was producing around 35,000 to 40,000 bales of Suvin, whereas the current production is just around 1,500 bales. Ironically, this fall in cultivation is not due to a lack of market demand.Suvin is in high demand in Japan,where it has been branded “Suvin Gold”.But then,Suvin is not an isolated case—India’s heritage extra-longstaple (els) cottons are all in a state of neglect, with falling acreage and hardly any fresh seed research.“Heritage cotton”varieties are those that are created and maintained by a country or group.Despite being the largest producer of cotton in the world, India produces just about 150,000 bales of els cotton, while the rest of the total domestic demand of 900,000 bales is met through imports.
Suvin was created by V Santhanam, a retired cotton breeder from Coimbatore’s Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. He created Suvin by crossing Egyptian cotton variety “Sujata” with “St Vincent” from the West Indies. Released in 1974, Suvin was taken up for commercial multiplication by Coimbatore-based Lakshmi Mills. “Contract farming with a 20 per cent incentive over the best varieties of those times made production shoot to 40,000 to 50,000 bales per annum,”Santhanam says.
The situation began to change with the arrival of “hybrids”on the scene.Suvin too is
Farm workers pick bolls of Suvin cotton from fields in Salem district