Cotton - organic

Cotton is an everyday item, often seen as a natural product. Yet its cultivation inflicts a toll on health, wildlife and the rights of farmers and workers. It is one of the most heavily-sprayed field crops in the world. Large subsidies go to cotton farmers in America and Europe, while unfair tariffs are imposed on imports from developing countries. But there is growing public pressure. Cotton has now joined the list of commodities, available to us all, that are being organically produced and fairly traded.

Organic cultivation

A photograph of a cotton plant, showing the fluffy white cotton bolls.
Image: Cotton growing in Gujarat, India.

Most of the cotton clothing and textiles we see in shops is extensively farmed using pesticides and herbicides. Almost 5% of the world's staple crop-growing area is covered by its cultivation which has been described as a 'sink' for 11% of the world's agro-chemicals. A new generation of initiatives and aid programmes now support organic cotton schemes in an attempt to move away from large mono crops, and they aim to promote the fair trade and treatment of people. They replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilisers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.

In 2001, almost 6,000 tonnes of organic cotton was grown in 11 countries, according to a recent survey. Although this represents only 0.03% of worldwide cotton production, the figure is likely to be somewhat higher. Turkey and the United States are the leading growers of organic cotton, followed by India, Peru, Uganda, Egypt, Senegal and Tanzania. Fair trade marketing schemes and cooperatives often work with organic farmers and make sure they get a fair and secure market for their cotton.

Products

What organic and fair trade cotton products are you likely to come across? Anything from cotton wool, ear buds, nappies, sheets and clothing to stationery and note cards, to name a few. Organic cottonseed is also used for animal feed, and cottonseed oil might be used in organic foods like biscuits and crisps. These products are becoming more popular by the day.