Have you cottoned on yet?
HJ Fantaskis | 09.10.12
The campaign released their briefing paper, Have You Cottoned On Yet, with a bold statement across the front page:
"Organic cotton delivers proven benefits for people and the environment - when it comes to making sustainability claims you can trust, nothing beats it."
In this blogpost, we'll summarise and review the report's findings and explanations.
The paper has a welcome habit of citing its sources for its claims. The references are a good mixture of scientific journals, and also reports from groups such as TRAID, Environmental Justice Foundation, and Government agencies in the UK, UN and India.
The briefing paper (well-designed and takes no more than half an hour to read) spells outs the key benefits organic cotton production offers.
Give control to farmers, not GM companies
GM giant Monstanto is highlighted in the report - 95% of the cotton seed market in India is controlled by Monsanto. This is bad for farmers for many, many reasons but the paper primarily focuses on Bt cotton, a GM crop that's been widely commercialised across India. It's not performing as touted by the GM companies, and is driving farmers in far worse poverty, and debt (and, in some cases, to suicide).
The benefits of growing organic cotton - in this instance - is that small-scale farmers are able to produce the cotton without having the buy the expensive GM cotton seed, pesticides and fertilisers. Farmers are able to work within their limits and environment, in a sustainable way, releasing them from the grip of GM giants' control.
Eliminate hazardous synthetic pesticides
The sheer scale of pesticide use in cotton farming is staggering - in developing countries, cotton is thought to account for 50% of pesticide use. As a result, up to 77million cotton workers suffer from poisoning from pesticides each year - usually through direct contact with the pesticides, or from freshwater pollution.
Organic cotton, the report tells us, is the safer option for the farmers and local communities. Synthetic pesticides aren't used in the production, and the toxic impact of cotton farming is removed.
Help farmers feed their families
Most of the chronically hungry people in the world are small-scale farmers in the developing world. Cotton farming takes up huge amounts of arable land. This monoculture (constant production of one crop) is bad for the environment, the quality of the soil, and forces the farmer to buy his food - leaving him vulnerable to price spikes and food shortages.
The report explains that organic principles require farmers to grow a diversity of crops. This maintains healthy and fertile soil. Some of the crops can be a source of food, and excess food can be sold at local and regional markets. This combination provides the organic farmer with financial and food security.
Save precious water
Greenhouse has recently been working with Wonderwater, an initiative that highlighted the use of water in agriculture. Textile production is the second highest consumer of water, and cotton is high on the list. The complete irony of the situation is that in places where cotton is grown and farmed, it's also very likely that the region suffers from water scarcity.
Organic cotton saves water. The report notes that 80% of organic production is rain fed, rather than irrigated - preserving important groundwater stores.
Have You Cottoned On Yet highlights a quote from Water Footprint Network Director Ruth Matthews: "Our study shows that organic farming can significantly reduce the grey water footprint of cotton by avoiding the use of pesticides and fertilisers that pollute waterways when they run off from farm fields.”
Combat climate change
There's two prongs to this argument: increasingly frequent extreme weather events are wiping out cotton crops, and for non-organic farmers this can be completely catastrophic. And, the production of synthetic agrochemicals has an enormous, and destructive, carbon footprint.
In a nutshell, organic cotton farming uses less energy and healthy organic soil stores more CO2. The mixed crop growing (noted above) means that if one yield fails, because of climate change, it's not so completely devastating.
The Greenhouse Verdict:
We highly recommend you take the time to sit and read this excellent, easy-to-digest report, and check out their new website too. Both will arm you with credible information, and help you make an informed decision on whether or not you want to buy organic cotton.
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