Bangladesh is only second to China in cotton consumption in the world thanks to the country’s thriving textile and apparel industries.
However, due to acute scarcity of arable land and absence of the right technology, the country can hardly meet 3-4% of its yearly demand for 8 million bales of cotton (each bale weighs 180 kilograms). This makes it the world’s top importer of the natural fibre.
Now, the development of a promising new cotton variety – CDB Tula 1 – ushers in hope that Bangladesh will soon be able to cut its import dependency and increase domestic production through the high-yield, drought-tolerant, and disease-resistant homegrown cotton variety that also has a shorter maturity.
The good news comes at a time when Bangladesh is celebrating the National Textile Day on Saturday under the theme “Globalization of the Textile Sector: Development of Bangladesh”.
Thanks to collaboration between the Cotton Development Board (CDB) under the Agriculture Ministry, Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the new variety was developed applying nuclear technology and is now being planted at 13 different locations in Bangladesh.
Over a thousand farmers are receiving training on the planting procedure.
After the current stage of field demonstrations across 13 different zones in the country, CDB Executive Director Md Akhteruzzaman hopes farmers in all cotton growing zones will get seeds of the new variety by next year.
“Cotton is the oldest known and most used textile around the world. While it took around 3,000 years to understand how to cultivate and process the first wild cotton, now, with nuclear techniques, new and improved varieties have been developed in Bangladesh in record time: just five years,” said the IAEA.
Dr Kamrul Islam is a senior scientific officer of CDB and played pivotal role in the development of the variety as the project director.
He told Dhaka Tribune: “The varieties that Bangladeshi cotton farmers have long been growing takes 180 days to reach maturity for harvesting, while the CDB Tula 1 is a shorter maturity cotton and can be harvested in 140 to 150 days.
As a result, farmers would not require much supplementary irrigation, as the cotton would be watered by the monsoon rains, he explained.
CDB Tula 1 – a new cotton variety with good agronomic performance and great fibre quality developed using nuclear techniques in Bangladesh through collaboration between the CDB, BINA, IAEA, and the FAO | Dr Kamrul Islam/CDB
Besides, Dr Islam said the yield potential would be 20-30% higher, as more seeds of the new variety can be cultivated on less land by keeping smaller gaps between rows.
He said: “Mutation breeding is a new area of research for us and we now have this new cotton variant, which can be grown in a short period of time. We expect this fast pace growth will increase yields and farmers’ income by 40%.”
Islam and his team has collaborated with the IAEA and the FAO in developing new varieties of cotton since 2016 and success came their way early this year, with them being able to develop a variety that’s more productive with better fibre quality.
CDB scientists told Dhaka Tribune BINA has helped it by irradiating cotton seeds with gamma rays, thereby opening up opportunities to find and select new growth vigor.
Mutation breeding through the application of nuclear techniques is cost effective and quicker than conventional breeding, as it helps create numerous new genetic variations for a wider selection.
Once widely used, the new variety is expected to bring macroeconomic benefits to the country as well.
Due to lack of sufficient, high quality domestic supply, the cotton industry is currently dependent on imports.
The alteration of the dry season and the monsoon season makes Bangladesh’s cotton particularly vulnerable, and the lack of a stable water supply year-round has caused huge losses in yields. This will be exacerbated by climate change.
As a result, developing varieties that are tolerant to climate extremes and grow at a quicker pace has been important for the country, Dr Kamrul Islam explained.
CDB’s future goal
The Cotton Development Board said in its latest annual report that 450 spinning mills have annual cotton fibre requirement of 8 million bales, while Bangladesh can currently meet hardly 3-4% of that need.
It now aims to meet at least 10-15% of the country’s cotton fibre needs from growing high yielding cotton varieties and expanding cotton acreage from less than 50,000 hectares to 100,000 hectares by 2030.
CDB scientists hope development of CDB Tula 1 and other technology in the pipeline will help it achieve the goal.
According to an April 2021 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Bangladesh has 433 spinning mills, 796 textile weaving mills, 246 dyeing and finishing mills, and around a total 6,502 registered and 527 un-registered garment and textile factories.
Approximately 4,621 Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporter’s Association (BGMEA) members employ 4.5 million workers at their garment factories, of which 80% are women. The RMG sector contributes 82-85% of Bangladesh’s total export value.
In recent years, Bangladesh sourced its cotton imports from as many as 43 different countries of the world, with the majority coming from the countries and regions of West Africa (27%), India (26%), United States (13%), and Brazil (13%).