Improving cotton farmers’ lives

Cotton grown conventionally leaves a heavy footprint. Not only does it damage the environment, it also affects the health of farmers and their communities. But there is a sustainable alternative: organic cotton.

Organic cotton doesn’t require any dangerous pesticides, uses less water and energy and offers smallholder organic cotton farmers a sustainable alternative. Further, with its strict traceability requirements, organic cotton brings a level of integrity (e.g., protecting against child labour) that conventional cotton lacks. At C&A Foundation, we are championing the development of organic cotton and for many years C&A has been amongst the top users of organic cotton. In fact, in 2014 with 46,000 metric tonnes, C&A was the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton.

Yet despite the benefits and the increasing demand from retailers, organic cotton production is under threat. Over the last five years, its supply has decreased by 50% and in 2014, less than 1% of all cotton was produced as organic.

In this section, experts discuss the main challenges to making organic cotton farming fair and sustainable.

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Joerg Boethling

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Joerg Boethling

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Joerg Boethling

Our work to promote organic cotton production

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Supported 23,000 conventional farmers to convert to organic, through our continued support of the social enterprise CottonConnect

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As a founding member of the Organic Cotton Accelerator, helped to galvanise stakeholders around this multi-stakeholder initiative focused on building a prosperous organic cotton market

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Commissioned a study with the Sustainable Economic Development & Gender unit of Dutch Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) to map the potential for organic cotton production in Tanzania

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Anita
Anita Chester
Head Of Sustainable
Raw Materials,
C&A Foundation
Creating a business case for organic cotton
Anita
Creating a business case for organic cotton
Anita Chester
Head Of Sustainable
Raw Materials,
C&A Foundation

In 2014, a lifecycle analysis across five countries revealed that, compared to conventionally grown cotton, organic cotton consumes 91% less water and 62% less energy. These environmental benefits also help farmers. In the long term, organic brings better economic gains and better health to farm workers and their communities. With such obvious advantages for the environment and farmers, why is the production of organic cotton in free fall?

Firstly, in the short term, it is difficult for farmers to see a business case for organic cotton. It is more labour intensive and high-quality agricultural inputs like seed and organic fertiliser are hard to come by. Yields also tend to decrease for the first years. Farmers perceive these factors as a risk.

Lack of good quality non–genetically modified (GMO) seeds, a prerequisite to be certified organic, however, is probably the largest barrier. Apathy and lack of investment both by the public and private sector in research and production of non-GMO seed has resulted in its shortage.

To compound these issues, market signals are unclear. On the one hand, farmers’ access to organic markets is not guaranteed. Demand for organic in the complex supply chain often does not reach the farmers, which results in organic being sold as conventional cotton. On the other hand, brands continue to face challenges in ensuring integrity, traceability and passing down price benefits to farmers.

All of these things mean that organic cotton will remain at risk unless something is done at multiple levels. Only collective action through market driven approaches that incentivise everyone in the supply chain to bring about far-reaching change.

Supply and demand of organic cotton

(Source )

  • 400,000
  • 300,000
  • 200,000
  • 100,000
  • Metric tonnes
  • 2008-9
  • 2012-13
  • 2019-20
Demand Supply Equilibrium
Shreyaskar
Shreyaskar Chaudhary
Managing Director,
Pratibha Syntex
Organic cotton farmers need holistic solutions
Shreyaskar
Organic cotton farmers need holistic solutions
Shreyaskar Chaudhary
Managing Director,
Pratibha Syntex

Organic farming is like practising yoga for the soil. It nurtures and rejuvenates the soil for long-term endurance, but it requires perseverance. The price differential between organic and conventional is down 80% in the last 10 years, and the cannibalisation by genetically modified cotton farming makes it all the more challenging.

Organic cotton farming is about holistic farming and community solutions. The aspects of good quality non-GMO seed supply, skill and input development, intercropping, crop rotation, farmer livelihood and overall community aspirations have to be understood and addressed for an enduring organic cotton supply. Only then through the 150 extension officers, the agronomists and the on-site management can we hope to have a meaningful relationship with our 30,000 associate farmers.

At Pratibha Syntex, we are a vertical textile producer from fibre to finished goods. We have managed to engage the farming community in the entire value chain and in creating a very unique ‘Seed 2 Seed’ (Social Economic Environmental Development) initiative at the farm level. With the support of C&A Foundation, CottonConnect at the farms, and major brand partners in the textile manufacturing, we plan to convert our entire manufacturing to producing only sustainable materials by the end of 2015.

I still feel as if we have just begun and the opportunities are endless.

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Joerg Boethling

Dilip's Story

The problems caused by chemical-dependant farming didn’t just affect Dilip Mangilal Patidar’s crop, they left him struggling to support his family. After participating in a C&A Foundation-funded programme, Dilip found a way to turn his life around.

I’ve been a cotton farmer for 20 years here in the state of Madhya Pradesh. I inherited this beautiful piece of land from my father so it is very close to my heart. In 2005, I started to grow genetically modified Bt cotton. At first, this proved to be successful. I got high yields from my crop and I supported my family comfortably for two years. But as the years passed, I had more and more problems.

Bt cotton is genetically modified to be resistant to insects. But it wasn’t resistant to all insects. I had to spray my cotton with poison to save the crop, which turned out to damage the soil’s fertility. And when our rainfall was too low or too high, my cotton yield suffered. It was a deeply unsettling time. I wanted to provide for my family, but these circumstances made it too hard to do so.

Things were getting increasingly hard for my family but then I found the answers I’d been searching for. I heard about a training programme organised by Pratibha Syntex and CottonConnect. I went along and got the answers to many of my problems. So I registered for the organic cotton development programme. The programme gave me the knowledge to practice organic agriculture, which has produced wonderful results.

Growing organic cotton means I get a better yield of cotton with very low-cost inputs, thanks to techniques like recycling organic waste and making compost. After the troubles my family and I went through for so many years, I had lost my faith in farming. The organic cotton development programme has restored it.

Potential impact savings from replacing conventionally grown cotton with organic cotton (Source)

  • Conventional cotton
  • Organic cotton
  • -46%

    global warming
    potential

  • -70%

    acidification
    potential

  • -26%

    eutrophication potential
    (soil erosion)

  • -91%

    blue water
    consumption

  • -62%

    primary energy demand
    (non renweable)

Less than 1% of the world's total cotton production is organic

(Source )

Word Cotton Production26.2 million metric tons (MT) in 2014

Sustainable cotton production breakdown

4.4%
Sustainable cotton
1.14 million MT

10% (Bayer) e3111,731MT

1.5% Fairtrade115,691MT

13% CmiA152,034MT

0.02% Cleaner Cotton5,997MT

65% BCI750,000MT

10% Organic116,974MT(0.45% of world production)