Welcome back to our series on organic cotton through the lenses of the Eco-Index. So far we have examined the organic advantage by considering impact through the phase one lenses of: Water, Energy/GHG, and Waste. Note: for phase one of the Index, only these three lenses have been fully developed to date by the Eco-Index Working Group (EWG) and are in scope for full metrics footprinting.
The remaining lenses: Toxics/Chemistry (both to people and environment), Biodiversity, and Landuse Intensity are currently sitting within the framework as ‘placeholders’. When the Index is complete, each lens will have a minimum of one specific metric associated with it, coupled with a clear methodology as to how to determine the measure (OIA).
So what does the Eco-Index say about Toxics/Chemistry to date? For a start it divides it into two categories: People, and Environment.
For People the Index describes Toxics/Chemistry as: Frequently harmful substances that are used in the supply chain. Most commonly in the materials lifecycle stage, but frequently in other stages, such as manufacturing or even use and care. For many of these substances, they pose a direct threat to human health, whether it is the worker who may be exposed during production; to the community who lives in or near the production; to the end consumer who uses the product where the substance may be integral to, or residual within, the product. This lens concerns itself with the impact on people across the entire lifecycle.
For Environment the lens is very similar to the Chemistry/Toxics-People, except it is solely intended to address all other direct substance impacts other than on people. For many of these substances, they pose a more significant threat to the environment—such as aquatic life.
Organic advantage - Certification is a clear benefit
Certifying organic cotton is a regulatory process and the meeting of Organic Standards must be third party assured. As a brand or retailer trying to assess impact through this lens, all the work is done for you.
Organic Regulations ban the use of persistent and toxic chemicals. This makes any metrics associated with Toxics/Chemistry a definite win for organic. We know exactly what goes in and more important metrically-speaking, what doesn’t. Standards for organic cotton agriculture are based on absolute requirements (get over this hurdle or else) rather than the more relative improvement measures (are you better than you were yesterday?) required by most sustainability standards. This makes measuring the impact of organic cotton under the Toxics/Chemistry lens much more straight forward and easier to quantify.
We talked the other day about quantifying hazardous waste, and how the organic advantage was the omission of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers (that could result in issues with hazardous waste). For the Toxics/Chemistry lens it’s pretty much the same; the substances are simply not there to begin with. Not only does this make the job of quantifying impact easy – it has the added advantage of overlapping other impact areas: waste (as discussed), but also all the others: water, GHG emissions, biodiversity, even landuse intensity. The other obvious advantage, in part covered here, is the social impact due to the removal of occupational risk for farmers, and health and safety risks to farm families from pesticides; such as spray drift, residues on food (and mum and dad), storage leaks, and accidental exposure to chemicals in reach of children.
Mapping chemical use
It is fair to say that most people involved in cotton production are interested in reducing the use of harmful agrichemicals and using safer alternatives more responsibly.
Cotton is ranked 3rd behind corn and soybeans in the total amount of pesticides applied (United States Dept. of Agriculture) and is also the 4thmost heavily synthetic fertilized crop after corn, winter wheat, and soybeans. Three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health as determined by the World Health Organization, rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production (Organic Trade Association).
Reports by the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) amongst others suggest that, globally, insecticide use is reducing. A decade or so ago, researchers and lobbyists suggested cotton accounted for up to 25% of the world's insecticide use, and more than 10% of the pesticides including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants. However, in the ICAC report, Cropnosis, a private company in the UK, say that the share of insecticide use in cotton sits around 15.7% of global usage, and total pesticide consumption has declined to 6.8%. How much of this decline can be attributed to genetic modification (as some people think) compared to better integrated pest management and other field improvements is not perfectly clear. Alongside the fall in insecticide use, we know that the use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) is on the rise – in part due to the promotion of Roundup as part of a conservation tillage technique. Glyphosate – and GMOs for that matter - are considered relatively safe in agriculture by some and seriously problematic by others, such as Dr Don Hube - an expert in an area of science that relates to the toxicity of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
Furthermore the recent banning of the organochlorine, endosulphan (an insecticide used commonly in cotton growing) should improve the situation, although there is not a unanimous agreement that endosulphan is really among the worst of them – or evidence that all developing countries are phasing it out (NCBI).
A word of caution
Finally, I would also like to point out that, while a global decline of pesticide use in cotton is encouraging, we should not be complacent. In many developing countries where farmers are often uneducated or illiterate, and where banned pesticides are still in circulation, the chronic deterioration of farmers’ health, acute accidental exposures, even suicide by chemical ingestion are still very real problems. Not to mention the contamination of sensitive ecosystems and aquatic life.
Organic farmers use knowledge rather than chemicals
Years and years of researching how ecosystems work, how bugs multiply, and how to replace agrichemicals with natural methods and botanicals means there is a wealth of knowledge around on how to grow crops without using synthetic agrichemicals. That’s not to say it is an easy process – not by a long shot! Nor is there zero risk; any substance no matter how natural it is, in the right (or wrong) concentrations or quantities can be hazardous to health. Also, organic agriculture is not always carried out completely free of commercial products; there is a list of approved substances for organic farmers to choose from (albeit these lists may vary slightly from country to country) and a demand in the market. But the principle of knowledge not chemicals goes a very long way. The challenge is knowledge is not as easy as agrichemicals to mass-produce, package, shelve, and make a profit from – this may well be organic agricultures’ biggest ‘fault’.
Next week let’s take a closer look at the remaining eco-lenses of Biodiversity and Landuse Intensity. Plus a special focus on measuring social impacts.
Farm Hub – Health & Safety http://farmhub.textileexchange.org/learning-zone/all-about-organic-cotton/social-impacts/-health-safety
Environmental Justice Foundation: Pesticides and Cotton http://www.ejfoundation.org/page332.html Plus their report ‘Deadly Chemicals In Cotton’ http://www.ejfoundation.org/pdf/the_deadly_chemicals_in_cotton.pdf
Pesticide Use in Cotton, The Expert Panel on Social, Environmental and Economic Performance of Cotton Production (SEEP), ICAC 2010 http://www.icac.org/seep/documents/reports/2010_interpretative_summary.pdf
PAN UK A catalogue of lists of pesticides identifying those associated with particularly harmful or environmental impacts http://www.pan-europe.info/Campaigns/pesticides/documents/cut_off/list%20of%20lists.pdf
Phasing in alternatives to Endosulfan, PAN Germany: http://www.pan-germany.org/download/phasing_in_alternatives_to_endosulfan.pdf
Organic Trade Association http://www.ota.com/organic/environment/cotton_environment.html
Organic cotton is an elegantly simple yet doggedly complex concept. It can be thought of as a product, an agricultural practice, a movement, or even a philosophy. And holistically it is all four! The best organic cotton ‘programs’ are certainly a combination of all four elements, resulting in a tool or formula for delivering benefits to farmers (especially small scale ones), the long-term health of the environment, and ultimately society at large.
Above: Organic cotton flower, Peru. Photo A. Lizarraga, Textile Exchange
Organic cotton programs are also set up to deliver a market driven solution for ecologically and socio-economically sustainable development. However, the economic benefits of organic cotton, once quite tangible due to the relatively substantial ‘price premiums’ in the marketplace, are less clear these days. Many advocates of organic programs lament the inability of ‘the market’ to take over, and donor funding and NGO assistance should gracefully phase out. And for 'just' or responsible trade to deliver the economic benefits necessary for genuine ‘pro-poor’, ‘pro-farmer’ economic development. Too much still depends on NGOs and civil society paying for the ‘value-addition’ of organic on the ground. We know that well founded organic cotton programs are living testament to the opportunities and successes of organic cotton, but investment in and commitment to organic cotton production systems by essential actors in the value chain is still fragile or fragmented. Generally speaking.
There are undoubtedly other concerns equally alarming, such as the rapid spread of genetically modified (GMO) cotton in many organic cotton producing countries. As with healthy market access, access to healthy non-GMO seed supply is a multi-dimensional dilemma due to the range of challenges it presents.
Solutions – whether for trade or seed - need to go beyond discrete value chain actors working in isolation and move towards a more holistic and inter-relational space, potentially acknowledging a degree of co-dependency. Certification provides an element of third party assurance, quality control, and traceability; it can work as the glue that binds each link to each other. But we need to move beyond this too. It’s the human factor that matters most; the de-commoditisation of cotton, and a shift towards a more humane sharing of prosperity.
In this series of Q&A’s we look at the past, present, and future of organic cotton. We consider organic cotton in all it's four guises - as a product, a practice, a movement, and a philosophy. With this wide ranging scope in mind, and our Farm & Fiber report just around the corner, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to start a discussion forum, and open up the discussion to you.
We also want to refresh your interest in the role of organic cotton as a market driven solution for improving livelihoods in rural communities and addressing ecological decline. Organic provides answers in terms of both farm innovation and a ‘low tech’ (low carbon, low-chemical, low water) method of production and it can also provide a blueprint for farmer-centric rural development and pro-poor trade which can have a lasting and profound impact in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.
For the next couple of weeks we will be asking (and answering) a number of popular questions about organic cotton and looking at some of the common concerns and myths. We also want to know – and hopefully answer – your biggest questions too. So send them in via the ‘comments’ box at the bottom of the page. We hope to hear from you soon!
Tomorrow: What does it mean to be ‘organic’?
This year is International Year of Co-operatives
In 2009 the United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the UN International Year of Co-operatives. The UN recognises the diversity of co-operatives around the world and encourages governments to create a supportive environment for their development.
The International Year of Co-operatives (IYC) celebrates a different way of doing business, where the members, who own and govern a business, collectively enjoy the benefits instead of all profits going just to shareholders.
Having an International Year of Co-operatives provides an opportunity to captivate the attention of national governments, the business community and, importantly, the general public on the advantages provided by the co-operative model.
The co-operative model is on track to become the fastest growing business model by 2020.
Co-operatives operate in a range of sectors – ranging from banking, credit, housing, health, retail, food, utilities and agriculture.
Co-operatives are owned by nearly one billion people across the globe.
Co-operatives employ nearly 100 million people – 20 percent more than multinational enterprises. For example: In Kenya, 63% of the population derive their livelihoods from co-operatives. Approximately 250,000 Kenyans are employed or gain most of their income from co-operatives. (Source: ILO, 2009). In the United States, 30,000 co-operatives provide more than 2 million jobs. (Source: National Co-operative Business Association).
Co-operatives promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people, including women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples.
Co-operatives innovate to meet the needs of their members, and may offer new products or services—ahead of competing businesses—because members ask for it.
Organic cotton co-operatives can be found in almost all organic cotton producing countries. A significant amount of organic cotton is produced within the co-operative business model.
Cooperation has always been a fundamental principle of the Fair Trade movement. This means almost all Fairtrade certified cotton comes from farmer co-operatives.
For more facts visit Co-operative facts & figures
Sustainability, Community and Co-operatives
Co-operatives are values based businesses owned by their members. Co-operatives provide a sustainable business model that supports the social and economic development of economies, communities, and individuals around the world.
Sustainability and co-operatives go hand-in-hand. In the video below Philippe Cousteau calls for a new economic model, necessary in a resource constrained world, to be rooted in co-operatives.
Philippe Cousteau, Keynote Speaker at the 2011 International Cooperative Alliance General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico on Friday, November 18, 2011
Coop Stories and Textile Exchange
Stories.coop is a section of the IYC website dedicated to storytelling. It aims at sharing the diversity of the co-operative enterprise model and to telling stories of successful co-operatives around the world. This global digital campaign provides an insight into a large cross-section of co-operative stories from around the globe. During each day of 2012 the IYC will feature a Story of the Day on their Homepage.
Textile Exchange will also be bringing you inspiring and personalised stories from the organic cotton cooperatives we work with. What better way to open than to share news from the Republic of Tajikistan, where the newly formalised ‘Bio Kishovarz Co-operative’ celebrates its new official ‘co-operative’ status.
Tajikistan, officially the Republic of Tajikistan, claimed independence in 1997. Since then the country has grown in stability and is building a trade economy, partly with the help of foreign aid. Mr Sherzod Abdurakhmano, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, tells us how a group of organic farmers have undergone their own ‘independence’ and moved from NGO dependency (and donor funding) in their early days to establishing their own stand-alone co-operative.
We will be regularly posting our stories in the Textile Exchange Farm Hub and at Stories.coop
By Liesl Truscott
Farm Engagement Director
Our second guest blogger, Carl Pepper, returns to the subject of organic cotton markets. Carl reveals how his business risks are reduced through direct communication, out of the box thinking, and long term business security.
Growing cotton organically has its unique set of issues that challenge us as farmers. Most know and understand the on-farm production concerns of weather, weeds, insects, equipment, and labor. I want to address the issue of market stability.
My greatest fear is to do all the right things to produce a crop and not have anyone want to buy it. This fear comes from the fact that my entire farm is rain fed. This means my yields vary widely and unpredictably. I understand that buyers and manufacturers need a steady, consistent supply to make their business run. That is the big obstacle that seems, at times, insurmountable.
The solution for my operation has come in the form of communication and trusting relationships with buyers. The start was an honest face to face meeting with the major user of our cotton, Anvil Knitwear, in which we laid the cards on the table for all to see.
They explained how they could make adjustments in programs and blends, and communicate with retailers on our behalf to keep a steady demand for a varying supply. We farmers recognized the need to communicate changing crop conditions so the customers have as much lead time as possible to adjust to supply changes. This was, to be blunt, outside the box thinking. They were willing to adapt, just like I have to do with each new weather event I face on the farm. We are farming together.
The change was a move from the "I" perspective to the "We". The obstacles facing organic cotton production can be overcome when we reach the point where we have business and personal relationships that are built on a foundation of truth and trust.
It is a great feeling knowing my buyers are up late at night watching the radar to see if it is raining on my farm. It makes me sleep better.
From the Farm,
Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Coop
We are delighted to welcome our first ‘guest blogger,’ Graham Burden, to the Farm Blog. Graham gives a Cotton Specialists perspective on the triggers behind the cotton market and how the whole value chain needs to better understand what’s required to support organic cotton production.
Cotton agriculture is a vital cash crop for many millions of farmers worldwide. The small holder farmer may grow cotton on no more than two hectares and income from cotton is an essential contributor to the livelihoods of farmers and their families.
It is these smallholder farmers and the larger farms in more developed countries that turn cotton into the largest single textile fibre and the largest non food crop commodity in the world.
As a commodity, fibre pricing is dependent on supply and demand. 2010/11 and 2011/12 has seen an extreme rise and fall in cotton prices impacting throughout the value chain from farm to retail, resulting in uncertainty in product pricing at retail and uncertainty in future planning for farmers.
As in any cyclical agricultural commodity in a rising market farmers plant more and yet a one crop per year harvest such as cotton can result in large increases in production coinciding with a decline in demand feeding straight back to lower prices for farmers.
This is the normal “way of the world.”
Those farmers, brands and retailers that have made a commitment to organic cotton have been faced with difficult decisions in these uncertain economic times, the difficult economies of Europe and USA directly impacting the farmers in the lesser developed nations.
The organic farmers and brands who have continued their commitment to organic cotton are to be congratulated. At the brand level there must be difficult decisions surrounding continued support for organic cotton, knowing that customer’s availability of income to spend on clothing has been hit hard. At the farm level it is not difficult to see that farmers could see any decline in organic cotton as a justified reason to switch to conventional cotton, if they have seen the previous financial benefits of growing organically diminish. It is hoped that organic farmers will remain committed to the cause, as it is their efforts, hopefully rewarded with a fair price that is providing “added value” through their endeavours to benefit the environment and their communities.
It is essential therefore that the entire supply chain involved in organic cotton has an understanding of the nature of cotton trade and that decisions to support organic cotton at retail is having the intended benefits – economically, socially, and environmentally at the farm level and at the same time ensuring their customers in the high street feel they are getting good value for money.
It is with this last point in mind that Textile Exchange is committed in 2012 to produce a cotton trade guide outlining the intricacies of cotton trade and providing guidance for retailers and brands to determine that the farmer groups involved in their organic programmes are receiving a fair and reasonable reward for their commitment to the environment and the social and economic benefits to their families and communities. As a member of the working group on this Guide I believe this will be an invaluable tool.
Consultant at Sustainable Textile Solutions UK Ltd
Coming next, Carl Pepper gives us a West Texas Grower’s perspective of the challenges he faces as in organic cotton producer. Carls reveals the secret to his success and the recipe for a good night’s sleep!
Written by: Prabha Nagarajan - Regional Director for India, Textile Exchange
Indian Organic Cotton… Integrity Guaranteed
Prabha Nagarajan, TEs Regional Director for India, provides an excerpt from the India Section of this year’s Farm & Fiber Report, due out later this month. Prabha tells us how there have been major factors influencing the growth rationalization of organic cotton in India... Tighter regulation is one of them.
The Agricultural Produce Export Development Authority of India (APEDA) is a body of the Ministry of Commerce that has been established by the Government of India by an Act of Parliament in 1985. Many functions have been assigned to APEDA, most importantly marketing and export of agricultural products. In 2010/11 APEDA supported India with the export of 86 products to a value of $157.22 million USD. It is pertinent to note that cotton was one of India’s major exports.
Classifying organic cotton, photo courtesy bioRe India
Another critical role for APEDA is to act as the accrediting body and regulator of all third party organic certification in India. APEDA drew up the National Program for Organic Production (NPOP) which was approved in 2001 by the Ministry of Commerce and all agricultural organic production in India is certified to NPOP standards. NPOP has reciprocity with the US National Organic Program (NOP) and the European Union. APEDA has approved 22 Certification Bodies for certifying organic production in India.
Evidently then APEDA has a huge part to play in ensuring that India’s organic production at farm level is done as per the regulations laid down by the NPOP, and that the certifying bodies accredited by them carry out certification with the highest standards. In turn, the Certification Bodies ensure that the organic farming is carried out ethically by the producing groups. As Textile Exchange has always maintained, integrity is everyone’s business and cannot be assigned to just one player in the chain. Every single link in the chain is entrusted with the responsibility of working with integrity.
‘Tracenet’ is a clear example of how India’s accrediting body APEDA responded to the challenge of streamlining and bringing transparency into certification systems. Two years ago there were allegations about loopholes in the systems in India which were being exploited, and duplication of data, especially with reference to cotton. Tracenet is an online traceability system that ensures all data with reference to the certification of a product is entered and monitored, thus making for tighter regulation.
The checks and balances offered by Tracenet have helped in establishing the veracity and authenticity of data capture and have made duplication difficult or easily detectable.
Clean truck, photo courtesy Chetna Organic
Our last Farm & Fiber Report for the production year 2009/10 made mention of the introduction of Tracenet in India and changes in maximum farm group size that was being introduced in India. After ensuring training for all stakeholders, APEDA has made Tracenet mandatory since June 2010. Tracenet received its share of feedback and was lauded and criticized. However it has evidently played a huge role in rationalizing organic cotton production in India, especially in Madhya Pradesh. Our Farm and Fiber report 2010/11 will analyze the varied reasons for India’s huge drop in acreage and production of organic cotton. Though Tracenet is not the sole reason for the drop, even its most critical detractors will not deny that Tracenet stands vindicated.
Correct labeling, photo courtesy Chetna Organic
India is “Country of the Year” at Biofach 2012. One of the key messages that India wants to communicate to the rest of the world when they think of India as an organic producer, is that India is a credible sourcing country. Though India started out as a big producer of organic tea in the early nineties today the basket of export products includes a broad range of products such as the aromatic basmati, spices, medicinal herbs and nutraceuticals, horticultural products, coffee, and edible oils. Cotton continues to play a major role in organic exports accounting for about 45 percent of the total exports (NCOF). Tracenet has certainly contributed in no small way to re establishing the credibility of India’s organic cotton.
By: Liesl Truscott - Farm Engagement Director, Textile Exchange
As I sit back at my desk, breathe in, and think about “what next?” “What now for 2012? And “What do we want to be able to look back on this time next year and feel a sense of satisfaction... of purpose... of really making a difference?”
We saw 2010 begin to send ripples of uncertainty down many people’s spine. Organic cotton production and markets had been increasing beyond our wildest dreams, despite the economic crisis a few years back, the on-going value chain transparency problems, and the patchy investment in capacity building on the ground. Production continued to grow, particularly in India, with the farmers taking pretty much all the risks.
Come 2011, some might say our bubble had burst. We saw prices spike for raw materials having a knock-on effect for organic cotton, and an on-going conservativeness in the market (despite the strong placement of ‘ethical’ products and the increased interest in ‘sustainability’). We also saw confusion and competition, rather than seamless collaboration amongst the ‘more sustainable’ cotton initiators. And possibly worst of all (in my opinion) a relentless message to get prices for sustainable options down to the same price as ‘conventional’; all well and good if the conventional price reflects a ‘fair price’ but stressful for all – except perhaps the more naive of the world’s shoppers – if it doesn’t.
So what now for organic cotton?
I see 2012 as a year for maturation and stabilisation of the organic cotton sector, ensuring the positive impacts are reaching each and every farmer, and that all organic cotton projects are excelling. Our pioneers and innovators must take a strong leadership role. We need their expertise, experience, and quite frankly their conviction to guide the industry to the place we know it can be.
Below are my top five ambitions, some personal, but mostly aspirations I know I share with my colleagues, and hopefully the industry at large.
1. Seed security: Farmers having easy access to good quality, non-genetically modified seed that performs well in ‘low input’ organic growing conditions.
Photo: Chetna Organic - Seedling nursery, India
Why this is a priority: Over the past few years we have seen a push to increase the use of genetically modified (GM) seed in cotton production and expressions of interest by countries not yet legally allowed to use it. Non-GM seed has gotten scarce and been neglected by the agrichemical companies. Organic (and Fairtrade) certification does not allow the use of GM seed (which generally-speaking requires higher inputs of agrichemicals and water). Regardless of the pros and cons, farmers (and consumers) of any crop should be allowed the choice. Seed ‘sovereignty’ similar to food sovereignty states that people should have the right to certain things, such as saving seed for their own reuse.
What we plan to do about it... This year, funding permitting, Textile Exchange hopes to better support the fantastic work going on in a number of countries by dedicated experts, and other ‘seed stakeholders’. Our role will focus on joining up individual efforts to help systemise a collaborative network/movement, thus helping raise awareness of concerns and achievements, helping exchange knowledge and formulas of successful initiatives to other areas less developed, co-ordinate policy recommendations, and provide an access point for TE members to get involved.
2. Responsible business practice and investment in organic cotton: Farmers and their supply chain ‘partners’ working together to find ways to improve security of business that benefit all involved, and ultimately agreeing to long-term trade arrangements.
Photo: Bothling, Remei AG – Farmer training academy, Tanzania
Why this is a priority: There simply still isn’t enough investment in capacity building on the ground. This leads to insecurity in business development and an increased risk to business security for all. Ultimately suspicion, opportunism, and all the worst aspects of self-preservation come to play. The best way to achieve stable prices, improved product quality, reliable supply, etc. is through working more closely within supply chains, not by keeping a guarded distance. Yes it’s terrifying to rely on trust rather than an anonymous market to feel ‘safe’ but there are now plenty of examples of where ‘relationships’ are working, many of them built on a growing recognition of needing to look after a secure supply of raw material. It’s an ideal time for the more courageous (or the more evolved) businesses to test the waters and take a calculated risk! Plus, let’s remember why we are all doing this in the first place: to use trade as a vehicle for improving lives.
What we plan to do about it... Alongside our continuous messaging on the subject and support to our members, this year we are working collaboratively with a select group of early adopters and change agents to produce a Guide to responsible trade. The Guide will be aimed at brands and retailers to help them pave the way to better ways of doing business, either through direct engagement with producer groups, or with supply chain partners, through developing a deeper understanding of trade at the farm gate and how they can best support more responsible and transparent trade.
3. Further establishment of organic as the ‘Gold Standard’ in cotton production sustainability: Organic cotton farmers being clearly recognised and rewarded for their contribution to sustainable development.
Photo: Kings Group – primary schooling, Pakistan
Why this is a priority: There is an ever-increasing pool of evidence, based on reliable research, to confirm that organic agriculture is a successful way to future-proof our food and fiber production. We need to embrace this reality and increase our support in mainstreaming organic cotton production. We now know that organic agriculture offers less contaminated environments and workplaces, less burden on water ways, more fertile / less erosive soils, less demand on fossil fuels, greater potential for maintaining biodiversity, and better adaptation characteristics to climate change. Agricultural production systems offer a greater potential for food security and income diversity, particularly for producers in developing countries, due to the number of crops grown within the organic ‘system’. It is our priority to better communicate the benefits and support our member companies to actively engage in organic cotton agendas and bring organic to scale.
What we plan to do about it... In order to shout about the sustainability benefits of organic cotton we need to know that the benefits we hear about, and see amongst the best producer groups, are indeed the norm. This year we will be undertaking a major ‘Impact Survey’ based on ISEAL KPIs of sustainability, asking organic cotton farmers about their social and environmental policies, production, and practices. We want to be certain of their achievements and dig out as many quantitative measures as possible – We will be gathering evidence of what works best, what can be passed on to others, what’s not working, where further investment is needed... And how the textile community can best support farmers.
4. Promote leadership and continuous improvement: Lessons learned by pioneers, industry leaders, and early adopters are being shared and the way is clear for others to follow.
Photo: Anvil Knitwear – organic cotton leaders, USA
Why this is a priority: As we celebrate our 10th anniversary at Textile Exchange, we believe it is a good time to thank our leaders. These companies and organisations have seen an opportunity in organic cotton that is good for the triple bottom line. Not always plain sailing, straightforward, or immediately financially rewarded, our industry leaders: farmers, manufactures, brands, and retailers have transformed our understanding of what can be achieved at the farm gate. They are now the ones that are investing in other innovative materials, cutting carbon, removing more and more toxics from their manufacturing, and are forming partnerships to achieve the proverbial ‘win-win’. What better time than in our 10th year to bring pioneers and recent innovators into the lime light; not least to share their stories and inspire others?
What we plan to do about it... Over the course of the year, as we build up to our 10th annual conference in Hong Kong later in the year, we will be finding creative ways to share stories. First up, is our ‘Inspiring Moments’ snapshot gallery (up and running on our Farm Hub). Soon to come will be our ‘Future Shapers’ postings, delving into the motivations and success stories behind some of our favourite companies and producer organisations. Keep an eye on our website for updates.
5. More – and smarter – collaboration across the cotton initiatives: Diverse cotton sourcing strategies are built positively and collaboratively by brands, retailers, and supporting organisations.
Photo: Pedro Rivera – field training, Peru
Why this is a priority: There is a healthy recognition that we need to take better care of cotton production: for both the environment and the people involved in its production. What’s also healthy is the variety of approaches being taken to achieve more sustainable production. Whether it’s reducing the harm incrementally by targeting mainstream production (such as the Better Cotton Initiative, ‘Cleaner Cotton’, Integrated Pest Management, Best Management Practice), focussing on improving trade and development in Africa (Cotton Made in Africa), or through established certified schemes such as organic and Fairtrade production - there is room for all!
What we plan to do about it... Our priority at Textile Exchange is to support producers and other member organisations, (right through the supply chain) to invest in organically produced – fairly traded - cotton, since we know – when carried out according to the principles of organic certification – that it works. We also know that the best producer group initiatives are achieving way beyond farm sustainability and are contributing to sustainable development at a community level. This really needs to be seen to be believed! Our goal is to see more organic cotton initiatives benefiting more rural communities, particularly in developing countries. However, we see the benefits for some of our brand and retailer members in a diverse supplier base, supporting, and enabling a mix of initiatives to be brought to scale. This year, we continue to encourage organic cotton investment (in ways mentioned above) and will be working collaboratively with Cotton Connect our sister organisation on brand strategies that may encompass a mix of the initiatives on offer.
Finally, if I am allowed a sixth ambition... the combination of all the above, resulting in innovative designs, and sustainable products, that supports the use of business and trade as a vehicle for a better world.
We can all be change agents in 2012. I believe the current buzz words such as ‘collaborative competition’ and ‘shared value’ – whether they are any more worthy than ‘community investment’ and ‘corporate responsibility’ doesn’t really matter – they reflect our evolving understanding of inclusiveness, equality, and doing better business. What’s important is that we do ‘business as if people mattered’ – we put people at the heart of our mission statements and our business strategies. Not just our own generation but for those that follow.
I have seen the difference organic agriculture can make to farming communities, by improving livelihoods, and contributing to healthier happier communities. It requires investment, and commitment, from us all to get the best results.
Please join us in 2012 and help us build the capacity necessary to mainstream organic cotton, and catalyse better livelihoods for rural communities.
Thank you and Happy New Year!