Demand for eco-friendly fabrics propels organic cotton farming in India

Demand for eco-friendly fabrics propels organic cotton farming in India

Bhopal, May 16 (IANS) Barku Jairam, a 55-year-old farmer from Barwani of Madhya Pradesh, has taken up cultivating organic cotton, which he claims, has significantly brought down input costs besides ensuring a decent yield.

The demand for organic cotton from global apparel companies has prompted 1,000-odd farmers in the state to switch to eco-farming to grow cotton using bio-fertilisers and pesticides manufactured from medicinal plants.

The C&A foundation -- the corporate foundation of fashion retail clothing chain C&A -- has tied up with a few non-profits in the country to promote organic cotton farming as a part of its efforts to procure sustainable raw material for its business.

Although yields from organic farming are lower than by using Genetically Modified (GM) seed, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the negligible input cost makes it a profitable business, Jairam said.

"Till three years ago, I would earn up to Rs 27,000 per acre when I used GM hybrid seeds but the input cost would be around Rs 20,000 due to expensive chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

"Now, I earn around Rs 20,000 per acre but the input cost has reduced to just Rs 5,000," Jairam told IANS.

Farmers like Jairam produce bio-fertiliser for free from manure and agricultural waste from their fields and pesticides from extracts of medicinal plants such as neem, karanj (pongamia), ratanjot (alkanet root), besharam (ipomoea) and custard apple leaves along with cow urine.

Non-profits Aga Khan Foundation and Action for Social Advancement are helping the C&A Foundation in promoting and procuring organic cotton.

According to the Union Agriculture Ministry, 30.01 million bales (of 170 kg each) of cotton -- roughly 5.1 billion tonnes -- were produced in the country in 2015-16. The ministry, however, doesn't give out the breakup of organically grown cotton vs other methods.

At 60,184 tonnes, India was the largest organic cotton producer in the world in 2015-16, accounting for 56 per cent of the total production of 107,980 tonnes while Madhya Pradesh accounted for 24 per cent, as per the C&A Foundation. Organic cotton accounted for less than one per cent of cotton produced globally.

Another farmer, Dhansingh Ghana, said hybrid seeds for organic farming were provided for free for first three years by the foundation as incentives to make them self-reliant.

"Even if we will have to pay for seeds now, the input cost would not be much as major components such as bio-fertilisers and pesticides are still free," said Ghana.

According to these farmers, who had come to the state's capital Bhopal to attend an event on organic farming, the foundation gave them Rs 200-300 more per quintal when compared with the government rates.

Anita Chester, Head of Sustainable Raw Materials of C&A Foundation, said the negative impact of climate change has driven brands across the globe to look for sustainable alternatives.

"The way climate change is impacting all of us, the whole industry thinks that the businesses have to be more responsible.

"In this inequitable world, there is growing consciousness that there has to be more equity in what we do. This is what drives the brands to push themselves and set targets to source sustainable materials," she said.

Organic cotton production needs 93 per cent less water as compared to the conventional cotton cultivation, according to the foundation.

It also said the climate change impact is of 338.5 kg CO2 equivalent by organic cotton as opposed to 680.2 kg CO2 equivalent by conventional cotton.

The brands have sustainability commitment and so the demand for organic material is very strong now, said Chester.

"They are giving clear signal that organic is important and special. So it needs to grow," she said.

Chester said her foundation supports the farmers who want to go organic through capacity building and helping them in getting certification, which helps them to link with the markets.

While there are hurdles such as non-availability of seeds, lack of input agencies, poor market links for organic farming, the foundation is bringing all stakeholders, including the government to cross the barriers, she said.

Faiz Kidwai, Managing Director of the Madhya Pradesh Agriculture Marketing Board, sought a fixed price for farmers to promote organic cotton.

"There is a huge potential for organic farming in the state but farmers are not keen on doing it because they do not see any benefits due to lack of market, supply chain or value chain.

"We will have to assure fixed market price to bring them on board," Faiz told reporters on the sidelines of the event.

(Saurabh Katkurwar was in Bhopal at the invitation of C&A Foundation. He can be contacted at saurabh.k@ians.in)

--IANS

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