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We decided to start using organic cotton for our textile products in February 2011. After learning about the human and environmental consequences of normal cotton production we were absolutely shocked. So, on this page we have included the information that we found so that we can share it with you. Going organic wherever possible, after finding out the facts, was something that we felt compelled to do.
Most people associate cotton with something natural and environmentally friendly. In fact, traditional cotton production is massively reliant on pesticides and harsh chemicals. 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land is devoted to cotton growing, but more than 10% of all chemical pesticides and 22% of insecticides are used in its production. That means that 8 x more pesticide is used on cotton than on other crops. These pesticide chemicals are pretty nasty; reducing biodiversity, upsetting ecosystems, and poisoning water supplies. Worse still, pests exposed to synthetic pesticides build up a resistance to them, much like human beings to antibiotics. So each year, farmers have to borrow money to buy more pesticides to grow the same amount of cotton – increasing the annual damage to the environment, and making it harder for the farmers to make a living. In some regions of India, 60% of a farmer’s outgoings will be spent on these chemicals, and thousands of farmer suicides are attributed to stress caused by the inescapable cycle of debt they promote.
Perhaps the worst thing about these agricultural chemicals is the damage they cause to human health. At least three of the traditional cotton pesticides are in the group known as the "dirty dozen" - the most toxic of all. According to the World Trade Organisation, agricultural pesticides cause 20,000 deaths and three million chronic health problems each year in developing countries - amongst the cotton farmers and labourers, as well as their communities.
Another huge reason to choose organic is the issue of desertification. Growing cotton (with pesticides) to make one cotton t-shirt uses enough water to fill a staggering 25 bathtubs. This would be enough of a problem if it were grown in Scotland (don't remember the last time we had a hosepipe ban), but in the dry areas of the world where cotton is produced this is very bad news indeed. The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan (formerly one of the 4 largest lakes in the world) has now almost completely dried up as a result of Soviet Union irrigation projects for the growth of cotton and other crops. The disappearance of this massive water-system has creating localised climate change, decimated the regions once prosperous fishing industry and led to massive economic hardship and decline.
In organic cotton farming natural pesticides (including chilli, garlic and soap) are used to deter pests while leaving their natural predators to do their intended work: weeds are physically removed rather than sprayed with poisonous herbicides. Other organic methods include crop rotation and ‘intercropping’ - sewing another crop between and around the cotton to create a natural barrier against pests and provide another source of income or back-up food crop for the farmers. This technique has the added benefit of actually encouraging biodiversity; organic cotton fields are home to a significantly higher number of beneficial insect species than normal ones.
In stark contrast to the water-guzzling normal methods of cotton production, organic cotton crops are mainly fed by rainwater. The natural, composted fertilizers that are used feed the soil with natural organic materials; encouraging high humus content and increasing its ability to retain moisture. Organic farming is not only more sustainable and less environmentally destructive, but provides fairer income for farmers and a higher standard of living; it can be a real catalyst for positive social change in cotton growing regions. The organic cotton is also much safer to handle and process, allowing farmers to live healthier lives.