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Cotton is a soft fiber that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant. The fiber is most often spun into thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile, which is the most widely used natural-fiber cloth in clothing today.
Cotton fiber consists of nearly pure cellulose, a natural polymer. Cotton production is very efficient, in the sense that, ten percent or less of the weight is lost in subsequent processing to convert the raw cotton balls into pure fiber. The cellulose is arranged in a way that gives cotton fibers a high degree of strength, durability, and absorbency.
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Cotton is used to make a number of textile products. These include terrycloth, used to make highly absorbent bath towels and robes, denim, used to make blue jeans, chambray, popularly used in the manufacture of blue work shirts (from which we get the term "blue-collar"), along with corduroy, seersucker, and cotton twill. Socks, underwear, and most T-shirts are made from cotton. Bed sheets are also often made from cotton. Cotton is also used to make yarn used in crochet and knitting. Fabric can also be made from recycled or recovered cotton that would otherwise be thrown away during the spinning, weaving or cutting process. While many fabrics are made completely of cotton, some materials blend cotton with other fibers, including rayon and synthetic fibers such as polyester.
In addition to the textile industry, cotton is used in fishnets, coffee filters, tents and in bookbinding. The first Chinese paper was made of cotton fiber, as is the modern US dollar bill and federal stationery. Fire hoses were once made of cotton.
The cottonseed which remains after the cotton is ginned is used to produce cottonseed oil, which after refining can be consumed by humans like any other vegetable oil. The cottonseed meal that is left is generally fed to livestock. In the past, cotton seeds were used by women as an abortifacient.
Cotton is an enormously important commodity throughout the world and today India is the second largest producer and consumer of cotton, very soon tipped to become number one. India also has the largest area under cotton. India produces around 11% of the world's cotton from 20% of the area. However, many farmers in developing countries receive a low price for their produce, or find it difficult to compete with developed countries. This has led to an international dispute:
On 27 September 2002 Brazil requested consultations with the US regarding prohibited and actionable subsidies provided to US producers, users and/or exporters of upland cotton, as well as legislation, regulations, statutory instruments and amendments thereto providing such subsidies (including export credits), grants, and any other assistance to the US producers, users and exporters of upland cotton.
The world cotton area and production are estimated at around 30-31 million hectares and 20 million tons respectively.
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The biggest cultivators of cotton are America, India, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan and Eastern Europe, with China, US and India being the three largest producers of cotton.
US has a considerable share in world exports. India and China both fall short of their domestic requirement and are net importers. Among the consumers China leads the way being followed by India, Pakistan, US and Turkey.
The northern region of India is the primary producer of short and medium staple cotton, while the southern states primarily grow long staples. The central region grows long and medium staples.
The Ministry of Agriculture puts India's cotton production at an average of 123-130 bales yearly. However, other agencies peg the production at 140-160 lakh bales.
Despite having the largest area under cotton in the world, India ranks third in world output of cotton due to its abysmally low average yield of 300 kg against a world average of 550 kg per hectare.
Although cotton is cultivated in almost all the states in the country, the 9 states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka account for more than 95% of the area under and output.
In India cotton is sown during March to September and harvested during September to April. The peak marketing season for the crop is during November to March.
Cotton is the most important raw material for India's Rs. 1, 50,000 crores textile industry, which accounts for nearly 20% of the total national industrial production and provides employment to over 15 million people.