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

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