Socio-ecological sustainability of cotton farming systems in central India

  • Christelle Ledroit

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Agricultural land covers 38% of the total world’s land surface area. These are man made ecosystems which provide Ecosystem Services of food, fibre and fuel to human society. With the world population predicted to reach 8.9 billion by 2050, one of the most important challenges the world is facing today is to increase its agricultural production in ways that is sustainable. To work towards a more sustainable world, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been adopted by the world leaders. There have been many studies looking at the ecology of food production but not on cotton production. Cotton is the most important fibre in the world: it is also the most polluting cash crop in the world. India is responsible for 26% of global cotton production of which more than 95% is genetically modified Bt-cotton. As well as being a major conventional producer, India is also the largest country producer of organic cotton. Despite this leading role, India has one of the lowest yields per hectare in the worldwhich is attributable to challenges in soil fertility and inadequate plant protection.Focusing on the impact of agricultural management on biodiversity is essential to ensure that cotton productivity is ecologically sustainable in the long-term. In this study, the functional biodiversity above and below ground was evaluated on plot-scale and farm-scale systems using bio-indicators to evaluate the potential ecological sustainability of four cotton farming systems (CFS) practiced in India: conventional; Bt conventional; organic and biodynamic. The long-term comparison study showed thatBt-cotton had no further significant effect on the above and below ground biota in comparison to the non Bt-conventional cotton systems. Both organic systems showeda significant higher biodiversity in comparison to both conventional systems. In the above ground diversity, the predator: pest ratio was higher in both organic systems. In the below ground diversity, the earthworm biomass and abundance were higher in both organic systems. The fungi Trichoderma sp. was significantly more abundant in Biodynamic systems in comparison to other systems. The aim of this thesis was to assess the socio-ecological sustainability of cotton farming in Central India. To evaluate the socio-ecological sustainability, this study assessed farm-scale systems using working cotton farms (12 farms: 6 pairs of Bt conventional and organic systems) by modifying an FAO model to develop a context based assessment tool. The study showed that conventional management hadnegative effects on the above and below ground functional biodiversity on the plot scale and farm-scale cotton systems. On the farms, socio-economic indicators showed that organic systems were significantly more sustainable in comparison to conventional systems, however, there is still need improvement for both farming systems. Adding ecological empirical data to the framework didn’t make a difference in determining which of the two systems were the most sustainable. However, integrated the ecological indicators facilitated insightful understanding of farmers management choices and highlighted the contextual problem that farmers face while growing cotton in Central India.
    Date of Award2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorBarbara Smith (Supervisor), Julia Wright (Supervisor) & Gurbir Bhullar (Supervisor)

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