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ICAC: Improvements & Awareness Vital to Sustaining Cotton Industry

Cotton is getting stiff competition from other fibers and market share continues to decline–if the once favored fiber is to remain competitive, the industry will need to make some changes and raise cotton awareness.

The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) held its 72nd Plenary Meeting in Cartegena, Colombia at the end of September. The theme of the meeting was, “Emergent Challenges Facing the Cotton Value Chain,” and the discussion centered around highlighting strategies for making the cotton sector more competitive.

“Cotton faces many challenges, among which competition from chemical fibers and quality issues are the most important,” Ruben Dario Lizarralde, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia said in the meeting’s inaugural address.

The ICAC’s Task Force on Competing Fibers reported that cotton is losing market share to alternative fibers, namely synthetics, and could continue to do so for the remainder of the decade. One recommended fix for this floundering is for the cotton industry to promote the fiber’s positive attributes for the environment, economy and human health and well being. Also, promoting cotton as a natural fiber that creates quality products is effective in the Latin American markets, ICAC reported.

The Latin American market is showing impressive growth of middle class consumers and raising the awareness of cotton among those consumers is an opportunity as well as a challenge, an ICAC press release noted.

In a meeting session titled, “Promotion Strategies to Effectively Meet the Challenges to Cotton Sustainability,” Jamie Flores, director of supply chain marketing in Latin America for Cotton Incorporated said, “We see a population that’s changing, with important growth in young consumers who are eager to buy.”

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Flores said in Latin America, cotton must compete with electronics, entertainment, and digital products in the consumer’s budget, but overcoming misconceptions about cotton’s flexibility and capabilities is the major challenge.

Many consumers don’t know, for example, that cotton clothing can provide moisture management capabilities, something buyers value in athletic apparel but don’t know that cotton can provide.

“Raising that level of awareness is a crucial step in the long-term success of cotton, not only in Latin America but around the world,” Flores said.

Another major message to emerge from the conference was the need to encourage young entrepreneurs to work in the cotton industry. Many young people favor urban opportunities over farming, but if governments could incentivize the younger population by providing access to things like increased education and mentorships, they could “cultivate a new crop of entrepreneurs.”

The meeting also addressed the need to develop metrics for social, environmental, and economic sustainability and increase the visibility of women in the industry through a proposed “Women in Cotton Network” designed to exchange information and raise awareness of gender issues.