ORGANIC COTTON IN INDIA

SpeeZees t-shirts are made with love from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton - grown, harvested, processed and manufactured in India. 

The story of cotton in India is one of great significance to us as both individuals and a business supporting organic agriculture in what has become a very troubled landscape.  Please read on to learn more about the importance of supporting healthy, life-sustaining organic agriculture in a sea of genetically modified cotton in this country creating quite the opposite effect.  Our choices as consumers really do make a profound difference to people and planet.

Conventional cotton farming in India

family of Vidarbha farmer suicide

family of Vidarbha farmer suicide

Although cotton only occupies five percent of cultivated land in India, it accounts for more than half of the total pesticides used in farming there.  The cost to the country has not just been felt on many levels: environmental, social, physical and spiritual.

While life as an Indian cotton farmer has always been arduous, the situation for conventional cotton farmers in India has, of recent, become especially bleak.  More than 250,000 conventional cotton farmers have killed themselves in this country since 1995.  The most recent estimation suggests that every 30 minutes a farmer in India commits suicide, crushed by debt, moneylenders and the destructive policies associated with the introduction of expensive genetically modified cotton seed.

In addition to the dire social costs of growing conventional cotton, the overuse of chemicals in its cultivation has resulted inpoisoned water sources and loss of land fertility, often with deadly consequences.  As one organic farmer in Andhra Pradesh says, "borrowing from loansharks can be dangerous.  Farmers growing transgenic cotton borrow money from moneylenders to buy chemical fertilisers, pesticides and seeds.  In case of crop failure, due to adverse conditions, like no rainfall and pests, the farmer is not in a position to give the money back.  Many feel forced to commit suicide”.  

What on Earth is going on?

The Green revolution in the late sixties introduced new hybrid seeds which were highly dependent on man-made fertilizers and pesticides.  By extension of this, in 1995 the American company Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint-venture with the Indian company Mahyco. 

Monsanto, whose seeds dominate industrial farms in the U.S., has since instituted and intensified a highly aggressive sales campaign throughout the rural landscape, whereby Indian cotton farmers are being pressured to buy their genetically modified seeds.  Indian salesmen, Monsanto employees, sell seeds for their own profit, and the effects they have on the farmer and his livelihood are truly devastating.

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Traditionally, Indian cotton farmers have saved seeds from the previous year's crop (it should be added that for thousands of years, harvesting seed has been a vital, often sacred, ritual all over the world), utilized neem and cow's urine as natural insecticides and employed fertilizer made from cow dung and compost.  Monsanto's new GMO seeds, called Bt seeds (also known as "terminator seeds"), are designed only for a single year's use forcing farmers to buy new seeds every year.  Shockingly, there has been an unprecedented growth of Bt cotton in India, with acreage growing from 3% in 2002-03 to about 90% in 2012.  Traditional heritage seeds are often simply non-existent.  As a result, about 90% of India's cotton farmers have become like slaves to Monsanto.  The salesmen are relentless.  They hand out leaflets to the illiterate farmers with photos and testimonials from other Indian 'farmers', testimonials that are later discovered to be false.

Cotton farmers are completely rain-dependent and the GMO seeds require more water, pesticides and expensive fertilizers than non GMO seeds.  Commonly, GMO crops slowly dwindle from lack of water and an infestation of mealy worms and after doing everything to save their crops, farmers find themselves completely broke, broken and desperate.

Their only way out now is to borrow money from corrupt money-lenders charging outrageous interest and   with no way to pay the money back, these farmers end up losing their land (which is typically all they have) to the money-lender.  This is the final blow.  Many of these farmers do not know how to survive in India's changing economy.  With nowhere to turn, more than 250,000 of these men have killed themselves, usually by drinking the poisonous cocktail: Monsanto pesticide. 

In March 2012, India's Hindustan Times carried a story titled “Ministry blames Bt Cotton for Farmer Suicides”. This hard hitting article speaks of India’s Bt cotton dream going “terribly wrong” and states that “for the first time farmer suicides have been linked to the declining performance of the much hyped GMO variety adopted by 90 percent of the country’s cotton growers since being allowed a decade ago”. 

“Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. Rising costs and yields and returns that do not match the promise have reportedly pushed farmers to the brink, financially and otherwise and sparked off a spate of farmer suicides in the Vidharba region.  Simply put, Bt cotton is no more as profitable as it used to be” said the Advisory from India's agriculture ministry.

If you're interested in learning more about India's crisis, please check out the trailer for the recent award-winning film, Bitter Seeds.

 

The shift toward organic cotton in India

Currently organic cotton is grown in 23 countries - mostly in India, Syria, China, Turkey, the United States, Tanzania, and Uganda.  India is by far the largest producer, producing 74% of the world's organic cotton (Textile Exchange, 2013).  Very hopefully more and more farmers are converting to organic farming in India.

Increasingly, organic farming associations - with the support of current and emergent international brands - are encouraging Indian producers to go organic.   Organic farming associations provide access to markets, negotiate better prices and establishe links with retailers.

Farmers making the conversion to organic are being trained on going back to traditional, eco-friendly practices such as using green fertilizers or cow urine as bio pesticides.  Crop rotation and/or mixed cultivation is employed to keep pests at a low level by establishing a natural balance.  Not using pesticides and diversifying crops benefits natural enemies of cotton pests such as birds, ladybugs, beetles, spiders, parasitic wasps, bugs and ants.

Farmers are learning that you don’t have to depend on chemicals to get a good crop, that many ecological remedies to problems exist, such as employing botanical sprays made up of plant and leaf extracts, reploughing during the summer season, planting trap crops that attract the pests which would otherwise have attacked cotton.

In some villages, watershed programs and systems are being established allowing for water conservation, increased crop productivity, soil heath and fertility.  Through these programs, through making their farming systems more sustainable and more more profitable, the livelihood options of small organic farmers are being expanded and the quality of farmers' and farmers' families lives are being enhanced.

Organic cotton farming, Maharashtra, India.  Zameen Organic.

Organic cotton farming, Maharashtra, India.  Zameen Organic.