Presentation title: Regulatory techniques to encourage long-staple cotton: Cotton transport and ginning in British India in the 1920's

Presenter: Kencho Peldon

Milestone: Mid-candidature review

When: 2pm, Friday 9 July 2021

Location: via Zoom


Long-staple cotton fibre was a much sought after resource of the British cotton industry. In the nineteenth century, Britain was dependent on the high-quality long-staple cotton from America. To reduce its dependency on the American cotton supply, from the early nineteenth century through to the twentieth century, Britain attempted to grow long-staple cotton in colonial India. In order for this to occur, however, Britain had to first deal with what it saw as a number of problems, not least that Indian farmers cultivated native short-staple cotton species and often mixed fibres of different staple lengths, which posed challenges to the circulation of pure long-staple seed. Faced with these problems, the British colonial government adopted a number of legal, scientific, and agricultural measures in the attempt to ensure the adequate supply of long-staple cotton fibre for the British domestic industry.

Over time, the British colonial administration adopted two different types of regulatory schemes in their attempt to secure a regular supply of long-staple cotton. Initially, the regulations focused on cotton as a commodity (fibre).  This included laws that promoted the wearing of cotton clothes (e.g., Britain’s Calico Act, 1701/1721, banned the import and wearing of Indian calico) or created specific markets for long-staple cotton (e.g., Berar Cotton and Grain Markets Law, 1897; and Bombay Cotton Markets Act, 1927). Over time, regulation shifted to focus on cotton as a biological object (that is the cotton plant) rather than on the processed cotton. This included, for example, one-variety cotton laws that controlled the plant’s reproductive materials and which mandated that farmers grow only legally approved cotton varieties with desirable biological traits (e.g., one-variety cotton laws in the British colony of Nyasaland, 1910).

The focus of this presentation is on two sets of laws that operated halfway between these two modes of regulation. In particular, the focus is on the cotton transport law (1923) and cotton ginning law (1926) of British India.  The presentation will outline the details of these laws and will show how by controlling the way cotton was grown, processed, stored, and transported, these laws offer important insight into changes in the way cotton was regulated.