by Stephanie Malangone
Organic cotton has many benefits. It's better for the environment, it's better for your health, and has the potential to create not only a new standard in ethically made clothing, but also reform a whole era of oppressive farming practices in India.
India is the largest producer of cotton in the world, something that only increased after the introduction of genetically modified - or “GM”- cotton. When companies discovered that GM cotton would produce a higher yield at a cheaper price, they wholeheartedly embraced it as the perfect cost cutting solution. GM cotton quickly began to take over cotton production in India.
According to a report by The Organic Cotton Initiative, the GM company Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed market in India.
Woah. The report also explains that GM companies have sold Bt cotton--a widely commercialized GM crop--to small-scale farmers in developing countries, promising high yields and great harvests. They've called it the solution to poverty and hunger. Yet, this GM crop does not in fact promise anything. It can be even more vulnerable to drought and disease, which requires farmers to spend additional money (that they often don't have) on pesticides and fertilizers.
"The benefits that were assured from Bt cotton cultivation are not coming . . . Farmers have to use more pesticides and chemical fertilizers, as a result of which there has been an increase in input costs and reduction in profit margins leading to farmer's indebtedness and suicides." -- Basudeb Acharia, Chairman of India's Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, The Organic Cotton Initiative
In 2014, 80 percent of the cotton crop failed, and then again every single year after that, up to 2017, with very low hopes for 2018 as well.
(Cloud, Hand: https://unsplash.com/photos/0DosbK_etK8)
The first massive GM cotton failure in 2014 caused losses of $4 million for farmers, and it only went downhill from there. The staggering increase in crop failure and exponential economic downturn is often cited for the mass farmer suicides of the past few years. Though the factors in these suicides are more complex than the cause-effect of crop failure--there are social, cultural, political and historical elements at play as well--the financial devastation and insurmountable debt undeniably contribute to the devastation. Over 200,000 farmers have ended their lives since 1997.
Experts believe that organic cotton might provide some relief to this growing mass tragedy. It keeps out the toxic pesticides that impact the health of farmers and their families, it requires that they diversify crops which means they can grow food for their families, the seeds are available locally so they don't have to rely on major corporations and the crops are more reliable than GM cotton.
Before GM cotton was introduced to India, organic cotton was a fairly profitable business. In fact, it was 38 percent cheaper than GM cotton, and only 14 percent lower in yields, which of course was measured much before the GM cotton crops began to fail so immensely.
(Hand, Clap, Person, Dust: https://unsplash.com/photos/IS6RwpuEJpY)
If India can slowly return to the growth and production of organic cotton, their leadership in sustainable farming might pave the way for a better future for us all. India accounts for 70 percent of the production of organic cotton, which means they have the power to truly and deeply change the way the fast fashion industry operates.
For those of us trying to make our best conscious choices as consumers, we can do our part by reading our labels, choosing organic and demanding better ways forward from our brands. Providing a better choice to every family is a driving principle behind our sustainable children’s clothing, and we’re committed to driving change through responsible manufacturing.
Be sure to check our back often for more stories on organic children’s clothing and their impact on both the market and the environment.