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Can India Be a Trailblazer as Global Fashion Turns to Organic Cotton?

A report says that the market size of organic cotton will reach $6,730 million by 2028.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Can India Be a Trailblazer as Global Fashion Turns to Organic Cotton?
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All over the world, apparel brands have started adopting organic cotton. There are growing calls for sustainability across the world, from the fashion houses of Milan and Paris to India.

A report says that the market size of organic cotton will reach $6,730 million by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate of 40%. This is good news for India considering it is one of the major cotton markets and given the importance of cotton in the textile industry. The country produces over half of the supply of the world’s organic cotton, according to the Textile Exchange, a global non-profit for the fibre industry.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits, challenges and future of organic cotton.

Snapshot
  • A report says that the market size of organic cotton will reach $6,730 million by 2028.

  • India produces over half of the supply of the world’s organic cotton, according to the Textile Exchange, a global non-profit for the fibre industry.

  • The government’s National Programme for Organic Production aims to provide an accreditation framework to consumers, producers, processors and traders all over the country.

  • The GOTS is the global standard for organic fibres. India has over 5,000 GOTS-certified facilities.

  • The current production of organic cotton in India is 1.23 million tonnes. Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are among the states with a significant rise in production.

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research with associated bodies have released 64 non-GM cotton varieties and hybrids from 2017 to 2021.

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Why Organic Cotton Is 'Cleaner'

Cotton isn’t always good for the environment. It has sometimes been called “the world’s dirtiest crop”. It requires plenty of water and the use of harmful pesticides is common.

Fortunately, organic cotton is different. Organic cotton farmers replace harmful pesticides with those that are organically approved. They use natural fertilizers, such as manure. Organic cotton also does not make use of genetically modified seeds.

In organic cotton, the entire cultivation chain is carefully monitored. Organic farming does not deplete the soil of nutrients and sustainability is the aim from start to finish.

Artificial substances, such as formaldehyde and chlorine, are not used to process and manufacture organic cotton. There are natural oils, starches, bleaches and low-impact dyes at every step. This reduces the toxic effects of conventional cotton manufacturing.

Thus, clothing made from organic cotton is more comfortable and durable. It is hypoallergenic, making it especially suitable for those with sensitive skin.

According to estimates, organic cotton production emits half the amount of carbon dioxide compared to conventional cotton production.

For these reasons, organic cotton causes much less damage to the planet. It is the perfect choice for those who care about sustainable growth and development.

But Cultivation Isn't Easy

Organic cotton cultivation and manufacturing have many advantages. However, they also come with challenges. For a start, farmers do not always have access to good-quality seeds suitable for organic farming. At times, the seeds available do not have the required approvals. Similarly, cultivators can sometimes find it difficult to get their hands on organic fertilizers and bio-pesticides.

Since organic cotton requires a different mindset and process, farmers need to be re-skilled and trained in its cultivation. These skills include using natural fertiliser options and creating a healthy soil balance. Another aspect is the art of keeping pests under control instead of destroying them with the use of chemicals.

These challenges are not insurmountable. Farmers’ associations can collaborate with environmental bodies. Terms of microcredit can be arranged. There can be market interventions to make organic cotton yields more attractive. In short, inputs and facilities can be made more readily available, and the benefits of soil health can be properly communicated.

The government’s National Programme for Organic Production aims to provide an accreditation framework to consumers, producers, processors and traders all over the country.

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Identifying 'Original' Organic Cotton

Proper labelling and certification are essential for organic cotton to be sold with credibility. This is the aim of the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS). The GOTS is the global standard for organic fibres. Some examples of certified products are fibre, yarns, fabrics, clothes and mattresses.

Before products can be GOTS certified, all processes and activities in the chain need to undergo a periodic on-site inspection. Processors and manufacturers can export fabrics and garments accepted in major markets with a common standard. Consumers can thus select organic cotton products with confidence.

Another accepted standard is Organic Content Standards (OCS). In this case, the organic fibre percentage in a product is tracked throughout the supply chain. However, OCS does not cover processing.

In India, state governments are responsible for all types of cotton production. This includes organic cotton. In 2020, to overcome challenges and concerns, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) directed the Ministry of Textiles to develop and launch a Standard for Chain of Custody for Indian Organic Fibres and Products. At present, this is voluntary under the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). It certifies fibres from farm to made-ups.

India has over 5,000 GOTS-certified facilities. This is the highest number in the world. After recent reports of faulty certification leading to fake organic cotton products, a thorough audit was conducted by GOTS. It cancelled all wrongly issued transaction certificates. A revised system for raw material checks and reviews of certification bodies is being developed.

Can India Show the Way?

Rising production and increasing growth mark the outlook for organic cotton in India. Stricter norms for organic cotton cultivation and processing have instilled renewed confidence in quality.

Many organisations and industry experts are helping streamline the supply chain. These activities will create favourable conditions for buyers and suppliers to promote the industry. A body called the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) is boosting farmer prosperity and creating a transparent and responsible supply chain.

The current production of organic cotton in India is 1.23 million tonnes. Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are among the states with a significant rise in production. Others that showed growth are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the last five years, these states have produced 99% of the total cotton production in India.

Another indication of bright prospects is that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research with associated bodies have released 64 non-GM cotton varieties and hybrids from 2017 to 2021.

Organic cotton growers can adopt these varieties. More than 6.5 million cotton farmers are directly cultivating the crop. There are approximately 10.5 million workers in allied sectors.

Environmentally-friendly production systems drive best practices across the entire textile industry. Organic cotton has the potential to transform farming communities, improve livelihoods and reduce climate change. It minimises pollution and poverty and is better for people and the planet.

(Niroj Mohanty is Managing Director at Core CarbonX business and leads a global team that is responsible for all aspects of in the field of climate change and sustainability advisory and asset management. Vishwendra has been associated with Core CarbonX Sols Ltd as an advisor. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from voices and opinion

Topics:  fashion    Cotton   sustainability 

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