Between now and the next Round Table on Organic Cotton at our conference in Istanbul, Textile Exchange will be bringing you a unique opportunity to explore sustainable sourcing in a new and innovative way. Our exciting Collaborative Learning Series titled Rethinking and Reframing Sustainable Sourcing covers six related topics and consists of blogs, thought pieces, and live conversations. A new topic will be introduced every month. We see this program as potentially an incubator for rethinking and reframing sustainable sourcing of raw materials in the textile industry - your participation will be the key to its success!
Rethinking and Reframing Sustainable Sourcing will be a collective effort – a safe place and space to hear from peers and practitioners, peek into the value chains of other industries, and take away ideas and inspiration to help make business – and the world at large - a better place.
We will be inviting TE members and friends – from all walks of life - to share their expertise via our Q&A style webinars. It’s here that you will be privileged to join first-hand conversations with our guest presenters and knowledge experts... plus the chance to ask your questions directly. To register for our webinar conversations click here.
Rethinking and Reframing Sustainable Sourcing is centred on six webinars and each topic is introduced with a thought-provoking blog. The first in the series is about Creating Shared Value.
Over the course of the next six months we will explore:
- Creating Shared Value: how could this approach work for cotton?
- Impact Assessments, Footprints and Life Cycle Analyses: can these tools help guide sourcing decisions?
- Holistic value chains: moving from disconnection to integration.
- Three Dimensional Profit & Loss: will this be the next big thing?
- Role of Certification: how to make it more than a piece of paper.
- Telling the story: is communications the biggest missed opportunity yet?
to find out more about the six topics and to meet our webinar panellists.
Q&A style webinar
On the 23rd and 25th of January we will hold our first live conversation with two very knowledgeable and inspiring people:
Dr Helen Crowley, Conservation & Ecosystem Services Specialist, PPR and Alison Ward, Sustainability Consultant (formerly Associate Director Global Public Policy (Sustainability) at Kraft Foods and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Cadbury). Meet our panallists here.
Creating Shared Value
So what do we know about Creating Shared Value and why does it make an interesting topic under the banner of Rethinking and Reframing Sustainable Sourcing...? We encourage you to add your thoughts, opinions, and questions in the comments box. Links to particularly good articles online would be great to share here too!
Let’s get started...
The concept of Creating Shared Value (CSV) was coined by academic writers Michael Porter and Mark Kramer back in 2006. The basic premise of CSV is that there is mutual and tangible economic and social benefit to be gained through business that works within, and for the needs of, society. For example, trading partnerships between raw material producers and product retailers, based on CSV, can deliver benefits to producers by way of investment in raw material production, (training, inputs, yields, certification, etc), and by entering farmer friendly contracts. Other benefits include investment in the socio-economic and development needs of the supplier community, such as spin-off cottage industries, secondary processing, and local market development.
For the retailer partner, product quality and volumes, timely availability, and improved product preparation and packaging etc… all add value to the business and potentially give it a competitive advantage. Ultimately, for both partners, the security of business (committed supply and demand) underpins the relationship and reduces risk - it’s what is commonly known as a win-win.
Click here for more information on Collaborative Learning.
CSV and Sustainable Sourcing
Applying CSV is a logical step when it comes to securing high value/high demand or scarce raw materials with short supply chains. Cocoa is a perfect example. The short chain makes it relatively easy for the raw material producer and the end of chain retailer to know each other directly (unlike cotton supply chains). Furthermore, multinationals such as Nestlé and Cadbury (Kraft) are increasingly aware of the vulnerability of their business due to their dependency on the cocoa bean. They are feeling the impact of dwindling supplies, climate change, and other localised concerns. Further, the quality of the raw material (the cocoa) is massively important to the reputation of their company and the distinctive quality of their product in the marketplace.
SPOTLIGHT on Nestlé
The coffee and cocoa giant, Nestlé, is a great example of a large company deeply committed to the objectives of CSV and indeed they use this concept to help develop and drive their sustainable business strategy, secure their raw materials, and improve product (and production) quality. Along the way Nestlé has built closer relationships with raw material suppliers and is much more in tune with the needs of the community. In fact, for Nestlé, CSV has catapulted them out of the relentlessly bad reputation they held in the past (concerning the promotion of breast milk substitute, amongst other things) and built their perception as leaders in sustainable development and community investment within their sourcing countries.
Nestlé’s CSV pyramid (diagram) illustrates how the company’s commitment to sustainable development goes beyond compliance with international standards, laws, and codes to positively investing in their supplier communities, and potentially, contributing to country-wide sustainable development.
“The overall wellbeing of farmers, rural communities, small entrepreneurs and suppliers is intrinsic to the long-term success of our business, yet an estimated 70% of global poverty is concentrated in rural areas. We are working to support rural communities surrounding our operations in building a better future.” Nestlé (see Nestlé CSR overview).
What could CSV mean for cotton?
As yet, sourcing cotton fiber does not attract the same scarcity of supply concerns as cocoa. However, there are issues underlying general commodity sourcing that apply to cotton already, and a growing recognition among retailers, including textile companies, that they need to secure a sustainable supply of their raw materials. Related issues include the need to invest in the agro-ecological environment and the rural communities behind the production, and improve the sustainability credentials of their raw materials sourcing conduct. That’s if we want to see businesses go beyond more sustainable products and genuinely engage in sustainable development; to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Applying the framework of CSV could be a worthy approach.
What about CSV and organic cotton value chains?
Generally speaking CSV does not promote investment in ‘special’ initiatives such as organic and Fairtrade which attempt to work outside mainstream commodity markets, and arguably create an artificial or niche product. Instead, proponents of CSV would argue that direct investment in farmers (training, capacity building, etc…) and discrete investment in community projects should be enough to build a stronger supply base, i.e. through improved product quality and productivity. This sounds good in theory, but it oftem means the retailer (the investor) has a great deal of control over the benefits delivered to farmers and their communities on the ground. Community programs often rely upon a charitable investment (a CSR fund or similar) being streamed into the social development side.
Perhaps CSV, coupled with a farmer-centric production system such as organic agriculture, can be a framework for shifting producers from dependency to autonomy; to enjoying interdependent business partnerships where risk and rewards are shared equally? Using pre-existing agro-ecological farming systems (which benefit small scale resource poor farmers) and certification schemes, such as organic and Fairtrade, can ultimately boost farmer-led development, help farmers organise and achieve scale, and can result in benefits being more independently – or interdependently – owned by the members of the community. These thoughts I have thrown in to start the debate... and will be picked up by our panellists later in the month!
Image: Bergman Rivera supporting livelihoods within the Amazonian rainforest, Peru. Credit: Bergman Rivera
This month’s webinar
In our live conversation we will be exploring how CSV works in practice, pros, cons and limitations, and how it might be a useful framework for more sustainable cotton sourcing.
Over the next few weeks we want you to share your thoughts with us here and start sending in your questions via the comments box below. If there is anything you particularly want us to cover in the webinar please do let us know! Early postings will give our speakers time to prepare their best answer.
We look forward to an energetic and dynamic month “creating shared value”! Please sign up to our webinar - or all six in the series here.
Textile Exchange webpages: Collaborative Learning Series, First topic of the series Creating Shared Value, and an introduction to collaborative learning.
For more information on the concept of Creating Shared Value see the FSG website.
Video: Creating Shared Value: It's the Future
FSG illuminates the potential of shared value in this short motion graphic.
See also Creating Shared Value at Nestlé.
Green Futures Magazine: Will Supply Rule the Food Chain?
Food retailers are waking up to the risk of crop shortages. This article explores the awakening of our recognition of raw material shortages and how this is effecting supply chain dynamics. Supply chains are now centre stage. And as they acknowledge their vulnerability as buyers, they're developing a new sense of responsibility for the supply.In the past, the motive for initiatives like Cadbury's may have been reputation. Not anymore. As Oscar Chemerinski, Director of Global Agribusiness at the International Finance Corportation, explains: "There is an increased realisation by global agribusiness that their success or failure in the medium and long term is tied to the success of the small farmer, both financially and environmentally." Read the full article here.
Image: bioRe® Tanzania
Is ‘sustainability’ happening fast enough to protect our precious resources: our climate, our water, our soils, and indeed protect ourselves..? As we reel from one economic crisis to another, more ‘natural’ disasters and political unrest, and feel the force of a volatile commodity market and rising food prices... we simultaneously attempt to ‘manage sustainability’. These days there is a focus on ‘upscaling’ and how we can change a little in the right direction to maximise reach. In this blog I want to suggest that while increasing scale is a step in the right direction and fits nicely into our current business model, if we want to make radical change we should start thinking harder about depth of impact and economies of scope.
Hard and soft sustainability
After attending Textile Exchange’s 2012 Conference on Textile Sustainability in Hong Kong earlier this month, followed closely by the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) conference on Shaping Sustainability in the Cotton Value Chain, I am now more convinced than ever that we need to maintain diverse approaches to sustainability, and be flexible. ‘Managing sustainability’ will not be a one size fits all and there will be no technological magic bullets, the ‘softly softly’ approach will continue but it will be the breakthrough ‘harder’ version that will be needed to catapult us out of our comfort zone. Soft sustainability measures will allow us to feel our way and the harder versions will push us – perhaps kicking and screaming - into new territory.
All of us – whether we are acting within corporations, civil society, or as policy makers – need to be multi-faceted in our approaches to managing sustainability and recognise the different starting positions that inevitably exist within society. Yet, somehow we also need to acknowledge that tinkering around the edges, while a good start, will not be enough. Ultimately we need a business paradigm change.
To support my case, take climate change. We all know there are climate friendly choices within our grasp and many people, organisations, companies, and entire countries are working at reducing their respective carbon footprints. Yet last month we learned that the sea ice in the Arctic shrank 18% this year on the previous record set in 2007 to an all-time low. Lord Peter Melchett, from Soil Association UK, made this point eloquently in his keynote speech ‘Back to Basics’ in Hong Kong; setting the context for the conference and ‘why we were here’ for the next 2 days.
Commenting on the shrinkage, the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre director Mark Serreze said: "We are now in uncharted territory. While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur."
Author and environmental campaigner Bill McKibben declared “Our response [so far] has not been alarm, or panic, or a sense of emergency. It has been: ‘Let’s go up there and drill for oil’. There is no more perfect indictment of our failure to get to grips with the greatest problem we’ve ever faced.”
How fast and effectively are we addressing sustainability in agriculture?
When it comes to improving sustainability in agriculture the dominant focus, particularly in the West, appears to be how to improve production practices across the largest scale, in the shortest amount of time – in other words a focus on achieving economies of scale. For ease of adoption, this approach requires finding ways to reduce negative impacts associated with mainstream practices, whilst maintaining most of the original business practices – and business relationships. This form of ‘more sustainable’ agriculture suits many companies who are interested in sustainability but don’t want to change the way their business fundamentally operates. The emphasis is on incremental change and as a result it should be possible to continuously expand and continuously improve, the challenge will be in accurately gauging impact and continuing to drive improvement.
For the cotton industry, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), is ‘the one to watch’ as it grows according to the goals of scale and speed of adoption, yet within the boundaries of mainstream commodity markets. Examples of this model in other sectors include initiatives for sustainable palm oil, sustainable sugar cane, and responsible soy. These sustainability initiatives, whilst encouraging change, avoid tackling complex issues such as biotechnology (and the use of genetically modified seed), or attempt to interfere with commodity pricing. Ironically, the current interest in BCI has driven the price up as would be expected in the commodity market when demand rises.
Another approach to achieving more sustainable agriculture lies in addressing economies of scope. This concept, discussed by Giles Hutchins in the guardian recently, may even have a speedier route towards achieving economies of scale, since the goal is to approach a solution holistically. In the case of agriculture, it is not only the product that requires the focus, but we need to create healthy and knowledge-intensive communities that can then go on to tackle issues of product sustainability, in a non-dependent way. The necessary shift, Hutchens explains, is to remind ourselves to consider the entirety of the system and not just pick away at parts of it.
For the cotton industry, cotton grown within organic, Fairtrade organic, biodynamic, and agro-ecological systems (i.e. production systems which depend upon closed loop nutrient cycles and not on artificial inputs or genetic modification) represent production systems that work within the laws of natural ecosystems and the advantage of economies of scope. This recognition of the benefits of working within natural systems has led to new areas of ‘biomimicry’ - to emulate or take inspiration from nature (its models, systems, processes, and elements) in order to solve human problems. (For a great introduction to this topic have a listen to Janine Benyus here). Organic agriculture draws on biodiversity and on-farm inputs (such as animal manure, organic matter, insects, etc) to maintain the natural order of the farm system. Nothing need leave the system or needs to be introduced from outside.
Organic cotton farming systems also tend to put local people in the centre of the production system and when operating effectively increase local food security, as well as produce the cotton cash crop for market. (See IFOAMs People before Commodities campaign here).
Recognition of this eco value-add and care of ecosystem services is rewarded to the farmer through trade agreements that incentivise the farmer to ‘go organic’ and is supported by ongoing investment and business security. At the same time, procurers and consumers of organic cotton are rewarded through an ecologically produced raw material which will undoubtedly score well on indices such as the EcoIndex and Higgs Index due to the reduced use of imported inputs and chemicals, high percentage of rainfed production, water retention capabilities, and closed-loop nutrient and organic material recycling. A brand new report by FiBL shows that organic agriculture provides environmental benefits through the sequestration of atmospheric carbon in soil organic matter. From a more holistic perspective research is finding that organic agriculture offers small scale farmers a low input mode of production, and some resilience to climate change. The big challenge right now is under-investment (see more about this and the first meeting of the Organic Cotton Round Table on our website).
In the longer term I’m sure we will see trade of organic cotton occur predominantly through dedicated contracts and not via the commodity market. Dedicated, integrated trade relations are more likely to occur within integrated value chains and less via merchants and middlemen. We have certainly seen this happen already with other important crops under stress, such as cocoa.
Business models for the future
Economies of scale were made famous by industrial business thinkers, intent on maximising productivity and reducing cost. Industrial business required companies to compartmentalise production to gain efficiencies, without evaluating the impact holistically. Today, many great business thinkers such as Michael Porter and Mark Kramer (creating shared value) and Giles Hutchins (the nature of business) encourage us to not only look beyond the ‘sum of the parts’ but to recognise the benefit – including the business benefit - of constructing a more socially and environmentally sound platform from which to conduct business. Progressive business models, these thinkers will argue, put people in the centre (not the product or the commodity), since relationships are the lifeblood of business. The ‘life’ underpinning the business and the inter-connected nature of the business system (with communities, with ecosystems, and natural resources) needs to be respected for businesses to flourish in the future.
Taking business models from commodities to communities
In today’s world there is a sound and logical argument for supporting initiatives focussing on bringing about a more sustainable product to market through addressing economies of scale. Just as certainly, we need to invest in sustainable development through people-centric approaches that focus on building more sustainable (resilient) communities and have a commitment to economies of scope. Both are equally worthy of our time and energy, and from a supply chain perspective, companies with an interest in sourcing more sustainable raw materials, should be able to work effectively by investing in both scale and scope.
In an attempt to move our businesses in the ‘right’ direction we probably need the easily adopted initiatives that will make small but incremental changes quickly to give ‘early wins’, but it’s clear, that the more progressive companies will keep their vision on the longer term sustainability agenda and work towards putting people (not the product) at the centre of their business model – right down the supply chain. These course-changing actions will require courage and a long-term view.
In conclusion I draw on the analysis of Giles Hutchins, who explains how the industrial-age gave us economies of scale and an approach to problem-solving based on looking at each issue or operating unit in isolation to find solutions or efficiencies. This approach gives us a solution in isolation which may not work effectively in the ‘living, emergent, volatile business environment’ that we now better understand, or at least better recognise.
Today we are reminded of the need to look at the inter-connectedness of business and society, and the intrinsic relationship we hold with our environment if we want to build business sustainably. We need to move through and past economies of scale to economies of scope. The risk is that we delude ourselves that the first is sufficient and get stuck there, missing out on the opportunity to go further and build a better more inclusive world where business contributes to the greater good.
As we count down to our conference and Round Table in Hong Kong next month I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the excitement and enthusiasm I sense brewing in anticipation. Not only are my colleagues at Textile Exchange, Fairtrade International, and CottonConnect starting to form a clearer picture of what we hope to do but requests and fresh ideas are already coming in from many different camps. As you can imagine, these early conversations are helping us shape and set the tone of the meeting – and most importantly help us understand what exactly people want.
We are hearing from a range of people that we need more transparency in supply chains. If brands and retailers are confused about where their money is going, how can they be expected to make clear commitments to sourcing organic? I am hearing more and more about the need to know farmers are getting a good deal at the farm gate. After that... what exactly are the extra expenses? People really need to know where their organic dollar is ending up. Why is an organic t-shirt costing so much more to produce than a non-organic one? If nothing else, if we can demystify the costs associated with processing organic cotton fiber (and there will obviously be some) and help brands avoid price escalation (and there are various ways to do this) we will have assisted many people who plan to be in that room with us on October 3rd.
Besides the need to demystify organic cotton supply chains and bring more transparency into costs/pricing post harvest, I’ve had profound – and I really do mean profound - discussions with people about how we (brands) can contribute to building robust and healthy communities through trade rather than simply focussing on procuring the product with a bit of social spending on the side. I’m hearing people wanting to find a much more holistic and sustainable way to embark on their investment and achieving impact. Sure, the point of contact between supply chain operators is the material (the cotton), and it’s fair to say that much of the goodness of organic agriculture is embedded in the fiber. But how does investment in organic cotton really pay off from a deeper business perspective, in terms of building healthy communities that can independently build better lives through security of business, security of food, and security of inputs? How can growers actively contribute to building better supply chains, share their ideas, collaborate in driving innovation, and help find market solutions? As we get closer to 2015 and the end of the first phase of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we are told that three important targets on poverty, slums and water have been met, but there is an urgent need for a truly global partnership to achieve the remaining Goals by the 2015 deadline. How can our work in organic cotton contribute to meeting the MDGs?
All this and more is being added to the mix for our meeting next month. Please let us know what you have on your mind – and if you might like to join us – while there’s still time. We have had to look for a bigger room to accommodate the number of people wanting to join us in Hong Kong so there are still a few seats available!
In Hong Kong next month we will hold the first meeting of the Organic Cotton Round Table. And although the meeting has blossomed into more of an open introductory session than a tightly closed meeting in a darkened room I’m delighted to see such interest and enthusiasm coming from so many corners of the industry. I’ll even go as far as claiming that this will be the beginning of a new era for organic cotton... and indeed one we are in desperate need of.
As I reflect on the past 10 years – something I do quite often these days as Textile Exchange celebrates its tenth birthday - I think it’s fair to say that organic cotton is a fascinating case study of how the market can package and deliver ‘eco value-addition’ through market mechanisms. It’s certainly not a perfect system but it’s not a perfect world and I’m positive about the ‘next phase’ in the life and times of the organic cotton sector. I’ll attempt to explain why...
In the beginning we witnessed the rise and rise of organic cotton. Since day one the growth curve was almost vertical – with considerable growth in both production and consumption – and figures indicating a 500 percent increase between 2005 and 2010. In 2010, organic farmers produced 1.1 million bales of organic cotton fiber – and volumes grew from 0.01 percent of global production to over 1 percent.
Today there is a growing mis-match The demand and consumer expectations are merrily – and obliviously - humming along with increased recognition, respect, and desire for all fashion green and ethical... and in fact there is a general expectation ‘out there’ that the industry will just keep on growing. Textile Exchange’s early analysis on the subject found that there is an aggregated growth projection of around 7 percent. However, behind the scenes those of us with our ear to the ground know there are serious barriers to this kind of growth; hence the need for a nucleus to operate from – and the birth of the Round Table on Organic Cotton.
So what’s going wrong? Organic faces two big roadblocks.
The Big Issues
Roadblock 1: Accessing non genetically modified seed: As most of you know organic – and Fairtrade and CmiA certification for that matter – requires the use of non-genetically modified (non GMO) cotton. Those are the rules - and I’m not going to delve into the nitty gritty now – but needless to say ‘seed’ is one of those subjects that I’ve found the more you know the more you realise you don’t know and it’s all very very ... well ... complicated.
What I will say is that in a number of organic cotton producing countries we have seen the introduction and expansion of GMO seed literally change the landscape overnight. And this is before ‘we’ as a ‘community’ (including farmers, scientists, medics, consumers, and so on) have even had a chance to get our heads around the pros and cons of GMOs – let alone to the bottom of the more complex and murky socio-economic issues associated with seed supply facing the worlds farmers and our general [lack of] freedom of choice. Of course seed manipulation is nothing new –‘hybridization’ of seed has brought fundamental changes to the way many countries and corporations produce, disseminate, and control seed – but creating hybrids is not the same as manually inserting genetic material from one species into another that normally wouldn’t have anything to do with each other.
In Hong Kong we will have perhaps an unprecedented situation on our hands where Round Table invitees from retailers to farmers will rub shoulders with seed breeders, grass roots seed specialists, and commercial seed producers. What will come out of this session is anybody’s guess! All I know is that this meeting provides an extraordinary opportunity to begin something constructive for the greater good. I don’t think anyone would disagree that seed integrity and genetic biodiversity is integral to the fabric of life on earth – and we need to keep non genetically modified seed in the suite of offerings – at the very least to respect the precautionary principle.
Roadblock 2: The Quest for a Sound Business Model. Now this is going to be a ‘hot topic’ on the day and one I am really looking forward to with only a little trepidation! Not only do farmers have issues with access to the right seed but how do we attract them to continue – and new ones to take up – organic if the market is not supportive? Despite the proven benefits to health, soil fertility, and food security associated with organic, the business risk has become a deep concern and a risk farmers are feeling less inclined to undertake, alone. There are, of course, some well established value chain partnerships out there that offer a great deal of security to farmers but sadly most organic producer groups are still ‘going it alone’ on the strength of their convictions and the hope that their investment in organic will pay off financially. Either that or they are overly dependent on NGOs and donor funding.
The ‘beauty’ and I suspect the ‘downfall’ of organic is that it has been nudged into the mainstream market as a ‘market driven solution’ (with, as I said, a number of exemplary partnerships and development ‘projects’ showcasing principles and practices, some which are not entirely met financially by the price of the product). The expectation has always been that the market will pay for the embedded environmental and socio-economic sustainability and there has been a tendency to avoid too much proscriptive price setting. However, at the same time, there has been an expectation that the market will pay for the value-add. Worst case scenario is that no one really benefits but the middle men – farmers are under-paid and brands are charged exorbitant rates which taint their perception and ability to participate.
Over the past few years as the volumes of organic have grown this premium price and associated market advantage has eroded. Not because the eco value-add or the benefits of organic aren’t there – but because the market is reconsidering whether it should pay for it. This is where the disappointment lies and we have to take a cold hard look at how we define ‘sustainability’. Furthermore – these days - there are many other variables in the mix; economic contraction generally, and quite frankly other options that suggest sustainability doesn’t have a price tag by claiming not to interfere with the market (which by the way is almost impossible). This is our challenge – and I believe the discussion underlying this conundrum goes way beyond organic cotton.
The bit that intrigues me most is the basic principle that ‘organic’ is worth more in the market than ‘conventional’, but we have all shied away from setting prices. Instead there has been an acceptance of some kind of ‘price premium’ for the extra work and attention that goes into producing cotton organically, and an expectation that producers are taking care of one and all. Of course there are the star operators that are working in partnership with organic cotton farmers, often within integrated value chains, and are ethically transparent in the way they calculate a ‘fair price’ and keep up with progress on the ground. In these situations, I tend to think the security of business (farm investment, guaranteed trade, improved quality, etc) is just as important to those involved as the premium – but if you were a farmer living from one crop season to the next I imagine both the premium and the security of business would be equally important. What we haven’t properly considered or calculated is the benefit to the brand of this security of business. I’m hoping this subject pops up in Hong Kong.
Our Round Table reminds us that collaboration is stronger than competition It’s fitting that the Round Table is established during Textile Exchange’s tenth anniversary year, as we reflect on how far we have come, influencing progress and change within the textile industry. The mission of the Round Table harks back to why Organic Exchange was created in 2002 - to identify and eliminate barriers to growth and effectively change the world of agriculture. Ten years later, we’ve made tremendous progress. The organic cotton sector has grown from $240 million at retail in 2002 to $5.16 billion in 2010, with strong, stable growth anticipated by many brands and retailers. However 2012, sees the organic cotton sector having reached a point in its growth where we’re running into new barriers to growth, which can only be solved through whole value chain collaboration. Not to mention engaging the hearts and minds of committed individuals – both pioneers and new innovators.
Collaboration with Fairtrade International Organic' and 'Fairtrade' initiatives share very similar values, objectives, and principles, and many grower groups in developing countries (and brands/ retailers) choose to be both organic and Fairtrade certified. Both initiatives also share some of the challenges and barriers to growth such as ensuring farmers have access to non-GMO seed, and finding mutually beneficial ways for producers and brands/retailers to work together - in a way that provides long-term security for farmers, and from which farming communities can flourish. After all isn’t that what it’s all about?
With our shared interests Textile Exchange and Fairtrade International have continued to build stronger working relationships over time and have agreed to co-convene the Round Table in Hong Kong.
Agenda The Round Table will involve facilitated discussion, mostly led by the participants on the day. As a rough agenda we are dividing the meeting into three parts: a context-setting session followed by a deep dive into the most critical issues for the sector, and finishing with an open discussion about how participants want the Round Table to operate from this point forward. This will be a closed meeting, so we will need you to confirm your attendance at your earliest convenience.
See you there!
For more information on the Round Table click here
Find out what others are saying click here
Last week, we introduced you to our new Round Table on Organic Cotton live via webinar. Thanks to everyone who attended and has started following up with me. If you didn’t get hold of the recording and wish to please contact Donna Worley. To build on the momentum set by the webinar we thought we would keep the discussion active through the Farm Blog. Please feel free to write directly into the comments box at the end of this page or send your contribution to us at email@example.com and we will post it for you.
Our first blog comes from Dr. Monika Messmer, a plant breeding expert and organic specialist at FiBL in Switzerland. Monika is working closely with organic cotton growers in India and has experience in participatory seed programs. She has put forward the following comments about the issues we raised in the webinar - and I believe Monika's contribution makes a very good start to an open and active discussion on the challenges we face and how the Round Table holds so much promise for a truly multi-stakeholder approach to finding workable solutions.
Monika tells us her views on...
Expansion of organic cotton production should always be accompanied with forward contracting with a fair price agreement between farmer and processor that is reflecting the actual production cost instead of the volatile global cotton prices and adding a fixed premium. If cotton is short on market, the conventional cotton price will rise and a fixed premium will be less attractive, so the farmers might sell to the conventional market. On the other hand, if the global cotton price drops too deep, even with the fixed premium, farmers will not be able to produce economically. Therefore, a fair price should be agreed on to avoid the “pig cycles”. This needs strong commitment on both sides, the customer to take over the agreed quantity to the agreed price as well as on the farmer’s side to produce the agreed quantity with the best possible quality. This commitment should also last longer than just one production year as organic cotton needs to be cultivated in crop rotation and farmers need a certain perspective.
In India and Burkina Faso the seed issue is not just urgent but will be decisive about the future of organic cotton. It might be still possible to go back to find non-GM cotton germplasm and to conserve the more robust endemic cotton species, however this needs immediate action and involves not only time but needs also financial support. Until now, there is no secure and long-term commitment from any side to financially support the organic seed chain or the organic cotton breeding. The stakeholders need to become active in political lobbying to promote public research as well as to financially support private and public-private partnerships to install and enable participatory organic and low-input cotton cultivar testing, seed multiplication and breeding projects.
To avoid GMO contamination, a better understanding is needed between organic and conventional cotton farmers and the risks of crosspollination and physical contamination during storage and processing need to be clarified along the whole supply chain. Especially the non-GM cotton seed multiplication needs to be done in geographic isolation, thus GMO-free regions need to be installed and monitored in each country. This needs political support and enforcement.
Easier entry initiatives
In keeping with Textile Exchange findings, we too, noticed in India that many farmers were dropping out of organic cotton production as the regulation, tracing, and data assessment has become very cumbersome for them and they are not compensated by the premium prize. Other labels are a lot easier to enter, have fewer restrictions, and have less control mechanisms, therefore the impact of labels like BCI should be thoroughly assessed and compared with organic & fair trade labels according to internationally accepted standards that integrate all aspects of sustainability. (See FAO Guidelines for a sustainability assessment for food and agriculture). Otherwise it will be hard to convince the different brands and stakeholders but also the consumers to increase their commitment to organic cotton production and not just to BCI.
The opportunities presented by the Round Table
As there is already a general awareness that business as usual is no option for future agriculture, we need to promote the advantages of organic cotton more clearly. Organic cotton is not just serving the cotton industry but also conserves our most valuable resources like fertile soils and healthy water; it protects the farmers from intoxication of pesticides, and processers from toxic additives or colours.
We are ready to support the establishment of organic cotton seed chains and participatory breeding projects. We have started this already in India, however, not to the extent that would be needed due to limited funding. Stakeholders along the whole cotton market chain need to join forces and follow the organic road from the very beginning. This could be the big chance of this Round Table.
If we want to have sustainable agriculture that will also serve our future generations, we will need to pay for the ecosystem service like fertile soil, clean water, recycled nutrients.
I have great hopes, that the responsible stakeholders of this Round Table might finally pool enough funding to secure the organic non-GM cotton production which is severely threatened.
Dr. Monika Messmer
Plant Breeding for Organic Agriculture
Soil Science Division
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture
Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau (FiBL)
In this guest blog, Jeff Wilson of Quiksilver explains how a holistic approach underlines all that they do – in parallel with organic’s philosophy. In their search for the best solution, Quiksilver takes all the evidence into account and maintains that all-important holistic view.
“As our company begins the journey to better understand and reduce our environmental and social impacts across our value chain, but most importantly in our supply chain, I believe it’s critical to take a holistic view. By that I mean we see the world, and our apparel and footwear industry in that world, as an ecosystem, where all things are intimately intertwined. That serves as a valuable thought process not only in addressing strategic direction, but also tactical execution and decision-making, including how we evaluate materials such as cotton.
I use cotton as an example only because of what appears to be an increasingly interesting and important debate around the various cotton farming systems and methods. No doubt the debate could be around most any “sustainable” fabric or material today. As I work with organizations such as Textile Exchange, Cotton, Inc, , suppliers, and various universities and institutes to become better informed, what I find myself trying to focus in on is staying true to the holistic approach. And to me in this debate what that means is cutting through ideology and bias and attempting to get at facts as best we can. Facts that can elucidate what the environmental, social and economic impacts are of the various approaches to cotton farming. Best I can understand it, there’s conventional, there’s GM/biotech, better cotton initiative, the SCP in California, transitional, and organic, and each has its own proponents and advocates.
What I would find beneficial is an open, honest and fact based dialog about the advantages and disadvantages of all these systems, with no specific commercial, ideological, or other agendas, that centers around a holistic framework of thought. This approach factors in all major environmental impacts such as water, chemicals, waste, energy, carbon dioxide/GHG, along with relevant farm owner/worker social measures, and financial impacts in the community and in the commercial sector…. a quantitative and qualitative approach. What I believe that we will naturally gravitate towards is an integrated system that takes advantage of the benefits of each system or methodology and minimizes the disadvantages. And who cares if that system is called biotech or transitional or organic or whatever. If it’s our best science, fact based solution, and it generates the best environmental, social and economic outcomes we are striving for, then why wouldn’t we pursue it and support it, regardless of what it’s called?
With 7 billion people on the planet, growing to 9 billion in half a lifetime, all needing to be fed and clothed mostly from an agricultural system presently under stress, we need to be focused on real, pragmatic solutions rather than narrow commercial, emotional or ideological interests.”
Director of Travel
Over the past month we have been examining the advantage of organic cotton agriculture through the lenses of the Eco-Index. At the end of the month we will be producing a small booklet consolidating the highlights from this blog series which will be available for free download to our members.
Today we are going to look at Land Use Intensity. Perhaps the curliest of the Eco-Index lenses. From most angles, the other lenses; Toxics, Water, Energy, Waste, Biodiversity, it is easy to understand the environmental objective. It’s also fairly straight forward to see the inter-connectivity between each theme (lens) since each builds on or overlaps the other. For example, Toxics generate Waste which impacts on Biodiversity. Land Use Intensity, on the other hand, is arguably at odds with elements of sustainability, yet undeniably a necessary consideration for the textile industry and the massive need the industry currently has for raw materials.
In this extensive blog, I’ve attempted to bring to you some of the academic research and definitions of Land Use Intensity and how to calculate it; along with some of the complexities and challenges for the industry of measuring Land Use Intensity from a more holistic sustainability perspective. The conventional assumption is that Intensification means more inputs of chemicals, energy, and machinery. I’m going to challenge that by introducing the concept of Eco-Functional Intensification - achieving a higher degree of organization per land unit, making knowledge and eco-functionality the resources we intensify. Thereby, keeping Land Use Intensity in harmony with the rest of the Eco-Index.
Let’s start by looking at what the Eco-Index Working Group says about the subject and its relevance to the indutry.
Eco-Index: Land Use Intensity The intent of this lens is to recognize that there is an increasing demand on use of land to create feedstock, and to some degree the manufacturing of materials and finished products.
How is Land Use Intensity in agriculture defined?
Land Use Intensity in agriculture is basically related to the inputs and outputs from a given area of land. One argument for intensifying land use (i.e. increasing the amount of inputs) is the objective of increasing outputs (yields) without increasing the amount of land under production.
Land Use Intensity in cropland areas is related to the degree in which the cultivation of the land is mechanized, the application or not of fertilizers and pesticides, and the use of water for irrigation (EU Desire Project). In the paper prepared by Lambin et al from the University of Louvain (Belgium) in 2000, the authors describe Land Use Intensification in conventional agriculture to mean using a higher input of nutrient elements and of pesticides per land unit, more energy (direct for machinery and indirectly for inputs produced off-farm). It also focuses on better exploiting the genetic variability of plants and animals; to do so, all available breeding techniques, including genetic engineering, are used.
How is Land Use Intensity modelled and measured?
Lambin et al, and Dietrich et al, at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central & Eastern Europe (Germany) explain in their respective papers, that Land Use Intensity is usually measured in terms of output per unit of land or, as a surrogate, input variables against constant land area. Input intensification measures the increases in input variables, e.g., chemical fertiliser, pesticides, etc., and can be distinguished from output intensification, which measures the increases in production against land area and time, e.g., food-tonnes or number of calories per hectare per year. In an input-oriented approach the amount of inputs is measured and weighted with their assumed increase in production or single input characteristics are used as a surrogate, for instance cultivation frequency (Dietrich).
For the cotton industry output intensification would equate to the yield which is either measured in seed cotton or fiber (kg) per ha per season (ICAC cotton harvest year August 1st – July 31st). However, if we were to use input intensification (in the conventional sense) as a measure of Land Use Intensity, the indicators i.e. amount of energy, water, chemicals, etc, would paint a considerably less sustainable picture for the industry (than output intensity) and be inconsistent with the goals of the Eco-Index.
The organic advantage The opportunity to draw on the objectives of organic advantage in terms of Land Use Intensity, are immense and wide ranging; potentially, enabling the industry to deepen the understanding of the term for the Eco-Index.
- First, organic cotton agriculture aims to maximise yields through reducing the use of manufactured and synthetic conventional inputs. This is by far more consistent with the aims of the Eco-Index, and the sustainable land use agenda in general.
- Second, many studies (e.g. by IFOAM, FAO, FiBL, Louis Bolk Institute, Rodale Institute), plus our own farm and fiber research into yields suggest that well-established, experienced, and well-resourced organic cotton farmers achieve yield parity with their conventional farming colleagues – arguably achieving longer-term soil fertility and soil structure.
- Third, and this is a rather more complex sustainability scenario, but from a cotton farmers perspective sustainable land use intensification could be best represented by an increase in his or her household security. Household security would include for instance food crops (number of varieties and yield), cash crops (income and yield), and long term adaptation to climate change, as well as the obvious cotton crop yields/area/time. Admittedly, the benefits of Land Use Intensity measured from this angle might be most appropriate in developing countries. But remember, a large amount of our cotton is grown in developing countries. Developing countries account for over 70 percent of the global area under cotton. There are approximately 20 million cotton farmers globally (and I think this is quite conservative), 97 percent of whom farm in developing countries. (Chaudhry, International Cotton Advisory Committee, 2001).
Land Use Intensity and output/yields of conventional and organic agriculture
I don’t want to go into a deep and argumentative monologue on conventional vs organic yield. Suffice to say it depends largely on good seed, geography, climate, access to water, soil conditions, support services, and knowledge of good agricultural practices. The most recent research on this subject that I have found, prepared by Seufert et al and published in Nature in May 2012 was based on a meta-analysis examining the relative yield performance of organic and conventional farming systems globally (note: cotton was not specifically mentioned). Research findings were: (1) Organic farming is deemed less environmentally damaging than non-organic systems, but it may require more land to produce the same amount of food. (2) Although organic yields are lower on average, they are almost equivalent to conventional yields for some crop types and when good organic management practices are used.
In our most recent research, we found that organic cotton yields are comparable (or higher) when comparing cropping under similar conditions. It’s probably right to say that cotton grown under high input conditions (including intense use of fertilisers, pesticides, and water) will yield high but potentially at the expense of the environment in the long run – and certainly at the expense of the farmer’s wallet. Under rainfed conditions, organic performs well, and farming systems are proven more likely to withstand sub-optimal weather events such as periods of low or high rainfall.
It’s also worth mentioning briefly that a considerable amount of organic cotton is produced within marginal growing zones, within socially orientated ‘projects’ often supported by NGOs or other development-minded organisations, to improve the lives of isolated farming communities. In marginal growing zones, farmers are not going to achieve great yields but potentially they will achieve better yields under organic production ‘by design’ than by organic or near organic ‘by default’.
Land Use Intensity and GMOs One of the big arguments by advocators of genetic engineering is that the use of GMOs will intensify production – thereby allowing more land to be used for other purposes. This is a very big and controversial subject, with many differences in opinion not only about the ability of GMOs to achieve higher yields in the long run, but also about the suitability of GMO (high input) farming in developing countries and indeed whether intensifying production systems is the best use of land, and ultimately whether it is ‘sustainable’.
Agricultural Land Use and Ecological Impact
In the Dietrich paper, a simple and logical explanation of agricultural land use/land management is offered. The authors say... A piece of land, irrespective of its size, is characterized by a particular use. This use is associated with a given type of management which is dictated mainly by climate and changes because of environmental, social, economic, technological and political factors. Depending on the particular type of management or land use intensity, land resources are subject to a given degree of stress.
Lambin et al believe land-use (and land-cover) change, to be one of the main driving forces of global environmental change, thus it is central to the sustainable development debate. Land use and land-cover changes have impacts on a wide range of environmental and landscape attributes including the quality of water, land and air resources, ecosystem processes and function, and the climate system itself through greenhouse gas fluxes and surface albedo (reflection) effects (Lambin et al). Further, several studies show a correlation between agricultural land-use intensities and decreases in species diversity (Dietrich et al).
Another way of looking at it - Eco-Functional Intensification
The concept of Eco-Functional Intensification is another way of looking at intensifying sustainable agriculture.
Niggli et al, authors of the Vision for an Organic Food and Farming Research Agenda to 2025, explain that Eco-Functional Intensification means activating more knowledge and achieving a higher degree of organization per land unit. It uses the self-regulating mechanisms of organisms and of biological or organizational systems in a highly intensive way. It closes materials cycles in order to minimize losses (e.g. compost and manure). It searches for the best match between environmental variation and the genetic variability of plants and crops. Knowledge is the key characteristic of eco-functional intensification.
It offers a huge opportunity to produce more food [and fiber] without compromising the quality of the environment, the quality of foods, or the life quality of farmers and the welfare of farm animals. Finally, eco-functionally intensified production systems are more resilient and highly adaptive to the unpredictability of climate change scenarios (TP Organics, Vision 2025, Organic Knowledge for the Future, see page 33-34).
Powered By Nature - The IFOAM Biodiversity & Eco-Intensification Campaign
IFOAM explain in their Powered By Nature campaign how, as an ecosystem-based sustainable production system, organic agriculture relies on the utilization of biodiversity and the optimal utilization of ecosystem services. The use of these services is the key to success. To maximize multi-functional benefits organic agriculture utilizes ecological rather than chemical intensification. Ecological intensification optimizes the performance of ecosystem services. These services include pest and disease regulation, water holding and drainage, soil building, soil biology and fertility, nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis and carbon sequestration, multiple agricultural crop and animal species, pollination and others.
IFOAM is developing a new publication in conjunction with partners that better describes and codifies eco-intensification. This will be an essential internal and external advocacy tool that will assist the uptake of farming practices that optimize the utilization, enhancement and protection of ecosystem services (including carbon sequestration and food production) and the quantity and quality of natural and agro-biodiversity (IFOAM).
Final note - Sustainable land management
A recent literature review of different sustainable land management practices was commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The review aimed at assessing the success of different land management practices in increasing and stabilizing crop productivity in developing countries. The findings supported the view that soil and climate characteristics are key to interpreting the impact on crop yields and mitigation of different agricultural practices and that the technology options most promising for enhancing food security at smallholder level are also effective for increasing system resilience in dry areas and mitigating climate change in humid areas. Since it sums up my ambition to wider the debate on Land Use Intensity models quite nicely, I will leave you with the summary of the review...
To secure and maintain food security, agricultural systems need to be transformed to increase the productive capacity and stability of smallholder agricultural production. However, there is a question of which technologies and practices are most appropriate to reach this objective, and considerable discussion about the inadequacy of the dominant model used for intensification so far—relying on increased use of capital inputs such a fertilizer and pesticides. Generation of unacceptable levels of environmental damage and problems of economic feasibility are cited as key problems with this model (Tillman et al. 2002; IAASTD 2009; FAO 2010a). Greater attention is thus being given to alternative means of intensification, particularly the adoption of sustainable land management (SLM) technologies. Key benefits of these technologies are increasing food production without further depleting soil and water resources (World Bank 2006), restoring soil fertility (IFAD 2011; Lal 1997), increasing the resilience of farming systems to climatic risk, and improving their capacity to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change (FAO 2009; FAO 2010c) (taken from Climate-Smart Agriculture: A Synthesis of Empirical Evidence of Food Security and Mitigation Benefits from Improved Cropland Management FAO).
Next we take a look at integrating social issues into the Eco-Index.
Dietrich, et al, Measuring Agricultural Land Use Intensity, IAMO, Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central & Eastern Europe (Germany), 2010 http://www.iamo.de/fileadmin/veranstaltungen/hawepa10/Dietrich_et.al._Hawepa_2010.pdf
DIS4ME (Desertification Indicator System for Mediterranean Europe) http://www.unibas.it/desertnet/dis4me/indicator_descriptions/land_use_intensity.htm
EU Desire project; Land Use Intensity Indicators (for fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystems) http://www.desire-his.eu/wimba/WP2.1%20Indicators%20in%20the%20study%20sites%20(Report%2066%20D211%20Mar10)/page_66.htm
Branca et al, for the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), Climate-Smart Agriculture: A Synthesis of Empirical Evidence of Food Security and Mitigation Benefits from Improved Cropland Management, 2011 http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2574e/i2574e00.pdf
IFOAM - Powered By Nature - The IFOAM Biodiversity & Eco-Intensification Campaign http://www.ifoam.org/partners/advocacy/Biodiversity_Campaign.html#Overview%20of%20Eco-Intensification%20Campaign%20Activities
Lambin et al, Are agricultural land use models able to predict changes in land use intensity? Agriculture, Ecosystems, & Environment, Elsesvier, 2005 http://elmu.umm.ac.id/file.php/1/jurnal/A/Agriculture,%20Ecosystems%20and%20Environment/Vol82.Issue1-3.Dec2000/1653.pdf
Nature, 10 May 2012, Vol. 485, page 229-233 Summary of the Letter can be found online here (and information on how to purchase the full article) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nature11069.html Further information on John Reganold’s commentary: Comparing apples with oranges can be found here http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7397/full/485176a.html
Technology Platforms ‘Organics’; Vision for an Organic Food and Farming Research Agenda to 2025: Organic Knowledge for the Future, 2008 http://www.tporganics.eu/upload/TPOrganics_VisionResearchAgenda.pdf
Textile Exchange, Farm & Fiber Report 2010-11 http://farmhub.textileexchange.org/farm-library/farm-fiber-reports
Welcome back! In this blog we will explore the advantage of organic through the biodiversity lens. Remember if you want to share your thoughts and comments we would be delighted to hear from you!
Biodiversity - So what does the Eco-Index have to say?
Currently classified as a ‘placeholder’ on the Eco-Index, the Eco-Index Working Group (EWG) promotes biodiversity in the following way:
As humans strive to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and scale of the production of the raw materials and finished products, there are often species which become victims of progress. This lens is intended to reflect this difficult to measure, but important to recognize, impact. Often the elimination or the pressuring of species can have ripple effects that go way beyond the immediate obvious impact.
For me, the emphasis on a ripple effect that can go way beyond the immediate or obvious impact is critical to keep in mind when considering biodiversity. As is the bigger picture and longer term impact of reducing biodiversity in terms of genetic material and consequently ecosystem complexity – ultimately by reducing biodiversity we increase dependency on chemicals and fossil fuels, and this in turn undermines the viability of agriculture.
The mention of biodiversity being difficult to measure is indeed also important to come to grips with.
Wikipedia hosts some very good reading on biodiversity (and has a huge reference section). The common, yet simple definition of biodiversity is the "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region”. An advantage of this definition is that it encapsulates the traditional three levels at which biological variety has been identified: species diversity, ecosystem diversity, and genetic diversity.
How do we measure biodiversity?
Before coming to Textile Exchange I was part of a team responsible for the development and management of the Corporate Responsibility Index for the UK charity Business in the Community (BITC). For biodiversity we collaborated with an expert organisation - Wildlife Trust - to shape the Impact Area and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). KPIs are critical for gauging success of an organisations biodiversity management strategies and action plans but difficult to reduce to a common number.
For most environmental impact areas – or lenses - we want to be able to drill right down to quantifiable data based on a common measurement (KPI), compare against a benchmark, and gauge improvement. For biodiversity it is the same; it is certainly valuable to establish indicators of biodiversity and be able to quantify flora and fauna populations (i.e. via habitat surveys, species counts, etc) as evidence of biological diversification within a given area. And with biodiversity, as it is with other impact areas, it is also relevant to understand the setting or risk magnitude (for example, is it a sensitive ecosystem? Is biodiversity or specific species under threat? Are there wildlife corridors or breeding grounds close by that need preserving?). It is just as important to make sure any conservation or biodiversity management practice, in place to protect and enhance biodiversity (habitat conservation, species protection, seed banking, tree planting, etc), supports the allocated KPI(s).
Biodiversity – the organic advantage
There are many ways in which organic agriculture protects and enhances biodiversity. In fact land under organic agriculture is even considered a key performance indicator of biodiversity in itself. However, there is more work to be done on how we quantify the organic advantage in a way that is practical to measure impact, consistently. I’ve summarised a few of the organic advantages below - as background reading. One reason for identifying the organic advantage is so other forms of ‘more sustainable agriculture’ have a north star, and also because the preservation of genetic varieties is deeply valued in organic agriculture but tends to be much less valued in mainstream agriculture where optimising crop yields can sometimes be at odds with improving biodiversity.
Organic cotton agriculture:
- Protects local and indigenous flora – Organic agriculture encourages the use of border plants; sometimes to protect organic crops from spray drift or to act as pest traps.
- Encourages polycultures – Cotton is usually associated with monocultures. Textile Exchange research discovered an average of six other crops are likely to be grown on organic cotton farms. For example, nitrogen-fixing crops such as peanuts and pigeon pea are commonly rotated with cotton to improve soil fertility; sesame and marigold are grown as trap crops (as well as for oil and food), and grain crops are sometimes intercropped (between rows of cotton). In many cases food crops such as millet and sorghum are grown on organic cotton farms to improve food security for cotton growing households, and these also contribute to the survival of indigenous species and diversity.
- Uses the ‘web of life’ to keep pests under control Well established organic cotton farms enjoy ecological balance. This means pest populations are less likely to break out and when they do are potentially kept under control by other insects – such as the wasp parasite acts as a biological control of the cotton aphid.
- Protects ecosystems – including fauna - from poisoning and contamination Organic cotton agriculture eliminates toxic and persistent chemicals and replaces them with crop rotation, nutrients recycling, and botanicals, which equates to rich, complex, and safe ecosystems in the soil, and results in less risk of contaminating soils, surface and ground water, as well as protecting people and animals from exposure. The use of pesticides can affect the ability of the ecosystem to offer crop protection because many chemicals are broad spectrum eliminating the friendly fauna/microfauna as well as the pests.
- Encourages use of traditional and local seed varieties / genotypes There are 4 commercial species of cotton; with Upland (Gossypium hirsutum) now the dominant species; having spread to over 45 countries and accounting for over 90 percent of all cotton produced (International Cotton Trade). The majority of cotton is grown from hybrid seed and the open-pollinating ‘straight’ varieties are far less common these days. The latter are of particular importance to the interests of seed saving and seed sovereignty – and are now making a comeback.
These days, around 50 percent of cotton is produced from genetically modified (GMO) seed which is patented by a small number of consolidated seed companies. Whilst GMO cotton is increasing it is not permitted to be grown in some countries, or regions within countries (see our latest Farm & Fiber Report for list of countries) and of course never in organic production. Further, in some parts of the world, such as the Peruvian rainforest, tribal areas of Odisha, and other remote farming areas (as well as those not so isolated) there is a growing awareness and concern about the homogenisation of crop varieties and domination of various seed breeds.
In summary, there is no disputing that organic agriculture is literally based on biological diversity – and it will score well in the Eco-Index. The challenge is how we quantify this essential indicator of sustainability for the textile industry in a meaningful and pragmatic way.
Next blog: Last but not least ... Eco-Index lens - Landuse Intensity
Further reading on biodiversity
Biodiversity in organic and low-input farming systems http://www.biobio-indicator.org/deliverables/D22.pdf
Farmers as seed breeders and custodians http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/susagri/susagri108.htm
Summary of the Organic Cotton Community discussion about “Seeds availability for organic cotton production”
Louis Bolk Institute - Farm Seed Opportunities http://www.louisbolk.org/research-2/agriculture/plant-breeding/farm-seed-opportunities-2/
Agricultural Biodiversity Is Essential for a Sustainable Improvement in Food and Nutrition Security http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/3/1/238
Impact of GM crops on biodiversity https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/CarpenterGMC2-1.pdf
Out of Hand: Farmers Face the Consequences of a Consolidated Seed Industry (2009). Kristina Hubbard, National Family Farm Coalition http://farmertofarmercampaign.com/Out%20of%20Hand.FullReport.pdf
Pierre J., Hofs J. (2010). Astylus atromaculatus (Coleoptera: Melyridae): Abundance and Role in Pollen Dispersal in Bt and Non-Bt Cotton in South Africa. Environ. Entomol. 39(5): 1523-1531
Chetna Organic seed sovereignty: http://www.chetnaorganic.org.in/thrust-areas/seed-soverignty
Appachi Cotton Trails: http://goumbook.com/the-cotton-trail-a-wonderful-eco-tour-in-south-india/; http://www.appachicotton.com/
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
In my previous blog I spoke of the opportunity for organic cotton to shine through the lenses of the OIA’s Eco-index and the SAC’s Sustainable Apparel Index. Over the next few weeks we will begin to explore the organic advantage a little further - starting today with a closer look at water and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Let’s start by looking at where the impacts of cotton growing might rank in terms of a textile product’s overall environmental impact. Most analysts agree that, if we make a lifecycle assessment (LCA) of a garment, the impacts during the production and manufacturing rank well below that of consumer use. Following further behind are distribution and end of life (although obviously all phases deserve consideration). Note: Some LCAs lump raw materials and manufacturing within the same lifecycle phase and others separate them out.
The focus of this blog will be the production of cotton fibre. But it’s interesting to take a short detour into the biggest impact phase of a textile product...
Product use has the biggest environmental impact
Plenty of studies agree that the biggest environmental impact of a garment’s lifecycle is during the consumer use phase (see references at the end of this blog). Researchers estimate that between 60 and 80 percent of all greenhouse emissions are associated with consumer ‘care’. This means that the everyday washing, tumble drying, and ironing of our clothes – particularly of frequently used items such as tops and pants – uses the most of our earth’s resources (energy and water) and emits the most carbon back to the atmosphere. Not to mention the impact of dry cleaning!
So whether your T-shirts are organic or not probably won’t make much difference here. I say probably because there is the theory that if a consumer was going to select an organic garment there is a chance their personal eco-credentials are higher than an everyday consumer’s and their resource conservation measures extend into other areas of their life – such as how they wash their clothes; choice of laundry detergent, washing machine settings, hanging clothes to dry, and so on.
What do we know about LCA, carbon, and organic cotton clothing?
There has been some work done on comparing the lifecycle of an organic cotton garment to conventional cotton clothing. For instance, Anvil commissioned Camco (a leading climate change company) to undertake an LCA of a number of their textile products. Anvil organic come in at just 3.09kg carbon emissions per Tee. Compare this against conventional Tees which are reported to be anywhere between 5.2 and 6.6 kg.
Research by the Carbon Trust suggests that if you were to combine 100% organic cotton with 100% renewable energy in the manufacturing you would be on to a real winner at just 671 grams per Tee– that’s a 90 percent CO2 saving!
Along with Anvil there are many companies, including Remei, Switcher, and Continental Clothing, working at producing a climate-neutral product by combining the use of organic cotton with alternative renewable energy or energy efficiency schemes, and off setting or compensation through social projects (see references below).
Zooming into the cotton field
Among the biggest environmental impacts associated with cotton growing are the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and water for irrigation.
The organic advantage – less is more
The closed-loop nature of organic farming and the focus on using local on-farm inputs, such as farmyard manure and green manure, reduces the resource burden of cotton production. The use of natural inputs removes the need for industrially produced agrichemical inputs (pesticides and fertilisers) which are manufactured in factories and shipped to the point of end use; this aspect of organic cotton production results in a smaller water and carbon footprint based on less moisture loss, less nitrogen leaching, less fossil fuel consumption, and lower carbon / greenhouse gas emissions.
A closer look at...
Water The impact of agriculture on both the quality and availability of the world’s water resources is already worrying. There is probably no need to mention the state of the Aral Sea due to the double jeopardy of pesticide use and over-irrigation. But you may be less familiar with the impacts of climate change on cotton production and the reduced availability of water for irrigation, in particular in Xinjiang (China), Pakistan, Australia and the western United States (International Trade Centre).
According to PAN UK, it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton, equivalent to a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans. From our research at Textile Exchange we estimate that globally between 80-85 percent of the organic cotton is grown under rainfed condition compared to an estimated 52-60 percent of conventional cotton.
Growing cotton organically can improve soil fertility and stability which improves water efficiency. Research proves that organically managed soils can result in higher organic matter content, higher biomass, higher enzyme activity, better aggregate stability, improved water infiltration and retention capacities and less water and wind erosion, when compared with conventionally managed ones (TP Organics). Published data reveals that where the percentage of organic matter content increased in the soil, the volume of water held at field capacity increased at a much greater rate (Hudson, 1996).
Greenhouse Gas Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation has calculated the amount of GHG produced under organic (low input) farming conditions as approximately 0.3 kgCO2eq per kg lint. This is 18 times less emissions compared to conventional (high input) farming at 5.2 kgCO2eq per kg lint. Nitrous oxides from soil are the most significant contributing factor to GHG emissions from rainfed, manually operated organic cotton farming, and according to Helvetas these only contribute 0.3 kgCO2eq per kg lint.
Research into carbon sequestration, carbon locking capacities, and climate adaptation qualities of organically managed cropping systems is currently underway (particularly by the European research organisation FiBL and federation of organic movements IFOAM). Equipped with only a mere applied science degree, I can hardly begin to understand the scientific complexities at stake. However, I can say, it’s the inter-related nature of organic agricultural systems that mean organic has so much to offer, and so much we can learn from. As I said in my previous blog we need to examine these inter-related components under the lenses of the eco-index and see how organic measures up. But it will remain the ‘whole being greater than the sum of the parts’ that will always make organic an extraordinarily successful process.
See you next week when we look at organic cotton through the lenses of toxicity, waste, biodiversity, and landuse intensity.
References for today’s blog
Bio Intelligence Services, 2011, Environmental Improvements Potential of Textiles (IMPRO Textiles), EUROPEAN COMMISSION, Joint Research Centre – Institute for Prospective Technological Studies
Business Social Responsibility http://www.bsr.org/reports/BSR_Apparel_Supply_Chain_Carbon_Report.pdf
Texworld , July/August 2010 http://www.textileworld.com/Articles/2010/July/July_August_issue/Features/Climate_Change_Carbon_Mitigation_In_Textiles.html
Switcher Climate Project: CO2-neutral T-Shirt Switcher ecos.ch
Remei AG http://www.remei.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Downloads_Englisch/Ready_to_wear_fashion_RemeiAG_Jan2012.pdf
Continental Clothing http://www.continentalclothing.jp/pdf/EarthPositive%20Apparel%202011.pdf
Cotton and climate change; Impacts and options to mitigate and adapt, International Trade Association, 2011 http://www.intracen.org/Cotton-and-Climate-Change-Impacts-and-options-to-mitigate-and-adapt/
Berman D. Hudson, Soil organic matter and available water capacity’, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 1994 49(2):189-194
TP Organics; Vision for an Organic Food and Farming Research Agenda to 2025: Organic Knowledge for the Future http://www.tporganics.eu/upload/TPOrganics_VisionResearchAgenda.pdf
Helvetas, Jens Soth research and presentation on organic cotton and climate change, 2009