22 August, 2014 / Shawwal 25, 1435

Cotton and textiles — the challenges ahead

Published Jan 19, 2009 12:00am

FINANCIAL downturn and chaos in international markets have severely hit Pakistan, especially the textile industry which is the biggest provider of jobs and foreign exchange earner.

Addressing the short-term causes of the industry’s problems, many specialists have hardly focused on the challenges the sector is to face in the next decade. However, most economists agree that the key to quickest economic recovery is through agriculture and industries based on its produce.

Cotton is still the most important natural fibre. In the year 2007, the global yield was 25 million tons from 35 million hectares cultivated in more than 50 countries. Its importance globally and locally cannot be denied. Recognising its global significance, Pakistani planners need to focus on this crop especially because of introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds. The growth of cotton is divided into two segments i.e. organic and genetically modified.

Cotton crop provides livelihood to millions of people but its production is becoming expensive because of high water consumption, use of expensive pesticides, insecticides and fertiliser, most of them imported in our case. These inputs are injurious to health and a source polluting the underground water.

Textile products under organic labeling fetch high prices as compared to genetic cotton products. To obtain this label, different markets are governed by different regulation; for example, EU has issued a regulation 2092/9/ and other big markets like US and Japan have defined their own criteria. The basis of most of the criteria is renunciation of genetically modified seeds, synthetic insecticides, pesticides and obligatory manual picking.

Between 2001-2005, the global sale of organic cotton products increased by 35 per cent annually, from $338 million to $583 million. The overall global increase in organic cotton production was around 400 per cent, a dramatic increase in four years. During the harvest period 2004-2005, organic cotton was produced in 22 countries, primarily in Turkey 40 per cent, India 25 per cent, US 7.7 per cent and China 7.3 per cent.

On the other side, in 2007, approximately 20 different varieties of genetically modified varieties were cultivated on 43 per cent or 15 million hectares of global cotton cultivation area. For example, 66 per cent of Indian cotton, 68 per cent of Chinese and 90 per cent of US and Argentina’s cotton is genetically modified. The primary objectives of this modification are:

Resistance against pests; tolerance against herbicides; adoption to cold, heat, dryness and salt; improved fibre qualities i.e. fibre length and strength.

The two varieties have their own merits and demerits. The genetically modified cotton gives better yield, properties and protects the growth from various pest attacks. Organic cotton fetches higher price because of increasing demand and restricted supply. Thus adulteration of both varieties cannot be ruled out.

So far, organic label only requires documentation and no analysis but scientific work is under way to detect adulteration. With scientific tests adulteration can be stopped or reduced to a large extent. The growers and industry must choose which variety to patronise.

In case of leaving the choice open, the adulteration of seeds will occur. Hence the future labeling of our products will become impossible. This will result in fetching low prices. The best course will be to demarcate the areas and ginneries for each variety and restrict cross boundaries movement of cotton by law with strict enforcement.

The textile industry must select the areas and work together with farmers; it is claiming ownership of the material from field onward. It seems difficult but this is the only way to control unadulterated cotton. The new testing methods of fibres, yarns and fabrics are under way and the present standards will become obsolete during coming years. Therefore, the growers and industry must be aware of the coming pitfalls.

In the past sufficient attention had been drawn to ‘environment’ and the focus would be more and more towards it. The primary concern relates to water and energy. The future textile industry, like many others, would have to find solutions to be a qualified supplier in many export markets. The traditional textile finishing section is considered to be one of the worst polluted, because the dyeing and finishing process repeatedly goes through wet and dry operations.

The consumption of energy in form of water and electricity is relatively high, especially in processes like washing, de-sizing, bleaching, rinsing, dyeing, printing, coating and finishing. Processing is time consuming. The major portion of water in textile industry is used for wet processing of textile (70 per cent). Approximately 25 per cent of energy in the total textile production like fibre production, spinning, twisting, weaving, knitting, clothing manufacturing etc. is used in dyeing. About 34 per cent of energy is consumed in spinning, 23 per cent in weaving, 38 per cent in chemical wet processing and five per cent in miscellaneous processes. Power dominates consumption pattern in spinning and weaving, while thermal energy is the major factor for chemical wet processing.

Wet processing in the future should be cost effective, environment-friendly and gentle to the textile material. Almost half of the world’s requirements for textile fibres are met by cotton. Natural fibres such as cotton are often preferred and also thought better for the environment. But a large quantity of articles show that cotton is the most polluting product. This is not only due to the use of pesticides, approx. 150 million kg/year, but also to large consumption of water. To produce one kilo of cotton up to 20,000 1itres of water is needed, apart from chemicals and energy. The entire wet process on cotton consumes 150/1kg and when printed 180/1kg. On polyester, 68/1kg will be consumed and when printed 99/1kg. The high water consumption on cotton is caused principally through the pre-treatment.

There is an increasing demand for sustainable textile solutions. Regulatory standards are becoming increasingly strict. Public awareness is increasing and consumers are becoming more ecologically conscious. Water is becoming a scarce resource in relation to demand, and supply and effluent costs have risen. The fabrics of the future will be entirely re-conceptualised. There will be materials with built in digital devices, capable of repairing themselves when damaged, smart textiles with nano-materials etc.

However traditional or innovative or added value in terms of functionality will not always reduce the consumption of energy and/or water. The processes have to be analysed where water can be deposited in the form of a spray with micro, nano or pico drops of liquid and so be able to control the deposit of liquid needed on textile to obtain the desired colour and functionality.

Normally, the textile industry is considered a traditional sector. However, the market is now growing rapidly with innovative textiles and many developments of new products and applications are on the market. The trend is high-tech, high performance fabrics with added value in terms of functionality.

Technical textiles account for more than 25 per cent of all fibres consumed and almost 50 per cent of the total textile activity in certain industrialised countries. Technical textiles are used individually or as a part/component of other products. Based on the end-use applications, these textiles are classified into 12 segments such as: Agrotech - agriculture, horticulture and forestry; buildtech - building and construction; clothech - technical components of clothing, shoes; geotech - geo-textiles, civil engineering; hometech - household textiles and floor coverings; iIndutech - filtration, cleaning, other industrial usages; meditech - hygiene and medical; mobitech - automobiles, aerospace; oekotech - environmental protection; packtech – packaging; protech - personal and property protection; sport-tech - sports and leisure.

In the end, it is needless to stress upon the existing and coming opportunities. All it needs is a clear policy direction from the planners and its implementation.

The writer is director of the Textile Research and Innovation Centre.

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