Kala Cotton | Classic Fabric of India
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Kala Cotton of Kutch is the original pure Old World cotton of India.
Kala cotton is neither new, nor a recent discovery. As a type of native cotton it is a coarse, short-staple variety of cotton native to Africa and Asia. It was a significant part of India’s cotton export trade to Britain at the time of colonization.
Kala Cotton is a rain-fed, short staple cotton (22-23 mm) grown in Kutch (mainly in Rapar and Bhachau). It is a variety of Gossipium Herbaceum.
Kala Cotton is one of the few genetically pure cotton species left in India and is one of the only species of pure old world cotton to be cultivated on a large scale.
It requires no external inputs from farmers and people of Kutch refer to its type of crop as ramol as it is organic by default. The ball of the cotton is fed to the cattle, as are the remnants of the seed after it is pressed for oil. It is notable that Kala Cotton provides food for cattle which is the primary source of income generation in Kutch.
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Kala Cotton requires minimum investment as it has a high tolerance for diseases and pests. Its production is carbon neutral, energy efficient, economically viable and promotes ecological diversity in India. It is also tolerant towards drought, stress and wind. Kala Cotton is grown mainly by marginal farmers in Kutch who cannot afford the risks and costs associated with BT cotton.
The sowing of Kala cotton typically takes place after the first rainfall, when enough water has been collected to ensure a good crop.
Just one more rainfall is required after this to grow the crop. The farmer is guaranteed a minimum production of Kala which becomes a net gain as the cultivation of Kala incurs practically zero costs.
Records show that cultivation of cotton in India goes as far back as 5000 years BCE. Of the four species of cotton existing in the world, two are indigenous to Asia and Africa and are called ‘old world’ cottons. Kala cotton, a rare species indigenous to the arid region of Kutch, was left in a forlorn state for financially better option of genetically—modified cotton varieties.
But a British–based research project has helped in reviving this traditional craft, renewed the livelihood of many families and promises to make it global.
Kutch has seen rapid industrialisation since the earthquake that hit in 2001. While the impact of industrialisation has its pros, it has impacted cultural livelihoods and their survival is now looming under a cloud of uncertainty.
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A lot has changed with time in terms of the varieties grown, the way cotton is grown and the places where it is grown. During the time of the British rule there was a massive transformation of India from a high-profit producer and exporter of indigenous cotton goods to Britain in the 17th and 18th century, into becoming a mere producer of raw cotton fibre of a non-indigenous variety for British textile mills by the 19th century. This change was brought about through high tariffs imposed on Indian textile workshops and restrictions on import of Indian finished cotton goods into Britain.
In order to meet their demand for cheap, raw, long-staple cotton, a large-scale rapid shift was brought about in Indian agriculture from the cultivation of short-staple indigenous varieties of cotton to long-staple cotton which suited British mills. The imposed agricultural shift to long-staple cotton meant that areas where cotton was being grown under natural conditions, i.e. rain-fed cultivation areas, now required additional resources such as artificial irrigation and chemical inputs for the cultivation of a new type of cotton.
Post independence, this was continued through the introduction of hybrid cotton varieties, especially during the era of agricultural intervention popularly known as the Green Revolution.
Like-minded groups and NGO’s which promotes ecological agriculture are working towards common objective of supporting local livelihoods with a cultural and ecological perspective. The idea is to capture different steps of weaving cloth out of Kala cotton, from the stage of growing the plant to the point of marketing the final product, in such a way that farmers and weavers are also benefited by the process.
First, it brings to our attention an aspect of life that is most often ignored - what is the ecological cost of what we are wearing? Kala cotton is grown under natural conditions, with a pattern of crop rotation and inter-cropping, demanding no artificial irrigation or chemical inputs. The ball holding the cotton fibre is closed, providing protection against the wind and allowing it to grow even in drought-like conditions. Its need for water is very low, with one good day of seasonal rain being sufficient for a harvest, and 2-3 showers promising the farmer a good harvest. Second, it focuses attention on another, often neglected question that is the process that goes into creating the final fabric.
In the case of Kala cotton, the process that has evolved supports local rain-fed farmers and handloom weavers, two sets of communities that are being otherwise hard-pressed to abandon their present occupations because of economic challenges.
Kala Cotton production is an environmentally sound process that provides sustainable livelihoods for marginal farmers due its zero input cost. Because of the unique geography of Kutch and its lack of water resources and drought prone fields Kala Cotton production is a suitable alternative to agricultural practices that require irrigation and chemicals. Kala Cotton production will help generate sustainable income in Kutch by creating a link between marginal farmers, spinners and weavers. It will also create inter linkages with weavers and local natural dyeing and block printing traditions in order to make a sound product range that will create a ground for ethical products that ensure sustainability of local strengths and linkages.
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