Round Table on Organic Cotton – blog discussion begins
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)