Agriculture is one of the main contributors to a country’s economy. Cotton is one of them. Its export brings in so much revenue that in some countries it is known as ‘white gold’. From towels, robes, linens, shirts, pants and every other cloth material you can think of, it is the most widely used natural fiber in the world.

The total production of cotton in the world is close to 25 million tonnes, worth a whopping 12 billion dollars. It is a fairly non-demanding crop, requiring a frost-free period, abundant sunshine and 60-120 cm of rain. The soil need not be the nutrient. With new genetic modifications and the production of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton, the production has increased many-fold. Here is a top ten list of the largest cotton producing countries in 2019.

10. Burkina Faso (283 thousand metric ton)

Largest Cotton Producing Countries 2019

Beginning the list is the largest cotton producer in Africa. 80 % of working Burkinabe’s (citizens of Burkina Faso) are involved in agriculture, which makes up 32 % of their Gross Domestic Product. Gold and cotton are their major export, about 70%. Cotton alone has shown enormous growth since the 1980s when it was 4%, to 2008 when it was 12 %. Their government estimates a 20% rise in their cotton production in 2017-18. They lost a lot of their crops due to pest infestation in 1990, but a US-based company provided them with genetically modified Bt cotton seeds which helped them in reviving the industry but in recent times, the farmers have avoided using modified seeds, saying the fibers they produce do not have the same quality as organically grown.

9. Turkmenistan (288 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

Formerly known as Turkmenia, this Central Asian country was once an important stop on the Silk Route. They are responsible for exporting cotton to Russia, Britain, Turkey, Iran, China, Singapore, Ukraine and South Korea. As clearly visible, the cotton is mainly for export purposes. Most of the country is Black sand desert and sees minimum rain. Most of the cotton plantation is using the method of irrigation. The water is brought all the way from Amu Darya River, which is the main cause of drying up of the Aral Sea. These conditions have caused the cotton production to decrease by 50%. Also, it will come as a shock to you that the Turk government uses forced labor during harvesting season to make quota. Denying working in the fields may be met with severe punishment.

8. Turkey (697 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

The Republic of Turkey produces the best quality of cotton in the world. They are first in Europe in cotton production. Unfortunately, due to the raging wars in its neighbouring countries like Iran, Syria, and Ukraine, the export of cotton has reduced. In fact, they have seen a steady decline in production since 2002. But by using recent technological advancements in farming and seed quality they have increased output by 21% and promise further 15% growth in 2017-18.

7. Uzbekistan (811 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

5th largest exporter, Uzbekistan is a black mark on this trade. Utilising, what can only be called modern slavery; they produce cotton used by South Korea in their bank notes. They export 17 % of what they produce, making it a major contributor to their economy. They export to China, Bangladesh, and Russia. Companies like Gap and H&M have boycotted Uzbek cotton until unless they stop using slaves (1.2 million) which include numerous children.

6. Australia (914 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

The top-ranked uses 200,000 to 300,000 hectare of land in New South Wales using irrigation and 100%local seed technology. This 3rd largest exporter of cotton produces 3% of the world’s total cotton. Their mainly export to China, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Japan. All of the production is mainly on individual owner based farms, found in the areas of Queensland and New South Wales. 30-60% of total agricultural GDP comes from here. Australian cotton is known for its color, strength, fiber length and lack of contamination.

5. Brazil (1529 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

We open our list with the land of the carnival. Not only is Brazil known for its sugarcane production but it also is a key player I the cotton industry. They are the fourth largest exporter too. The reason for their place on this list is the method they use to grow. They grow crops like cereal or grass and cut it few weeks before cotton plantation season. The fallen crops make a blanket over the field protecting the land from soil erosion, shading and cooling the soil. Then using specifically designed machines cotton seeds are planted beneath the soil without disturbing the mulch, which also acts as a natural fertiliser.

4. Pakistan (1676 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

Pakistan is the country where it all started. The oldest cotton plantation in Asia could be traced to this region where the Indus Valley Civilisation thrived. The textile sector contributes 8.5% of GDP of Pakistan. 15% of nations land is used for the production of cotton (called Kharif) during the months from May to August. It’s a good thing that they have seen growth in production from 1980 to 1991 since it is integral to the country’s economy. This increase in production is due to improved seed type, pest control and increased use of fertiliser.

3. United States of America (3738 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

This number one exporter of cotton has a dark history when it comes to cotton. The early years of African slavery were primarily because plantation owners needed farm hands to pick cotton. Hence cotton has always been synonymous with slavery history in the USA. Most of their plantation is based in southern states like Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Texas cotton has a major demand in Japan and remains the largest cash crop for the USA till date.

2. China (4953 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

The fourth largest country in the world utilises 24 out of its 35 provinces for cotton plantation. Safe to say, it is their primary cash crop. 30 % of the total land in China is used for agricultural purposes and 99.5% of it is used for cotton. That is a lot of lands to be used which is one of the reasons they remained number one until 1982 when they were taken over by the next on the list. The credit to their gross production is due to the use of genetically modified Bt cotton.

1. India (5879 thousand metric ton)

Cotton Producing Countries

The top one on this list comes second in export and produce 26% of the world’s total cotton. Even after being number one, the yield per area used for cultivation is very low. Gujarat, the highest cotton producer, saw devastating floods this year destroying the crop. But states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Northern India made up for the loss and gave a 10-15% rise in cotton production. There is a plan in order to increase sowing area by 21% next year.

Being a cash crop of utmost importance has put pressure on countries to make it their main export. This pressure, in turn, has caused oppressive regimes to take damaging steps like forced labor, child labor and what could only be described as modern slavery. International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of United Nations have made some progress in approaching leaders in countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in order to find better means of production. Many fashion companies have boycotted cotton from these nations until they stop child labor.


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