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India Cotton Farmers Show it ‘Pays to Go Organic’

As questions continue to swirl over authenticity in the organic cotton sector, verifiable versions of the fiber are more popular than ever, according to the Organic Cotton Accelerator.

Case in point: Its Farm Programme in India saw the number of participants triple to 74,000 for the 2021-2022 season. This included a “significant” boost in the proportion of in-conversion farmers, which skyrocketed from 4,000 to 22,500.

The multistakeholder organization, which released its most recent impact report late last month, attributed the surge in in-conversion farmers to increasing demand for certified organic cotton. Lower input costs, along with robust support systems, are also encouraging farmers to take the three-year leap to transition their crops from conventional to organic practices, the OCA said.

“I do not want to go back to the conventional method of farming,” said Dipak, an OCA farmer from Kutki village in the state of Maharashtra. “Most of my investment was used for fertilizers and pesticides and, in turn, this negatively affected the soil health of my agricultural land. I have decided to extend organic farming now to all crops since it improves soil health gradually. Maintaining a rich living soil is my priority.”

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There’s a business case to be made, too, the Netherlands-based group said. During the 2021-2022 season, organic farmers who sold their seed cotton through its Farm Programme earned a 6 percent higher net income than their conventional neighbors. In all, participants received more than 4 million euros ($4.2 million) for their crops. This marks the sixth consecutive year in which the OCA has managed to bridge the gap between conventional and organic farmer earnings, which is essential not only to build capacity but also to prove that it “does pay to go organic,” it added.

“We truly take the learnings and the feedback from our Farm Programme farmers to heart as we tackle some of this sector’s systemic challenges,” said Ruud Schute, programme director at the OCA. “The expansion of our program to include support for in-conversion farmers…and making sure farmers have the tools, training and support required, all highlight our mission to drive impact and improvements. Accelerating benefits for the farming community, safeguarding their environment, and transforming the entire supply chain.”

With the success of its pilot in Pakistan, which it undertook with the backing of local partners such as WWF-Pakistan, Artistic Milliners and Soorty during the 2021-2022 season, the OCA is now in the midst of its first expansion beyond India. Despite the catastrophic floods that submerged one-third of Pakistan in September, the project in the Baluchistan province has delivered its first organic cotton bales and continues to expand.

Bestseller said it valued the OCA’s dedication to organic cotton in a “trustworthy, data-driven way with feet on the ground locally through their implementation partners.”

“For Bestseller, the sourcing of our raw materials is of great importance, to create transparency and know the farmers who grow our cotton,” said Danique Lodewijks, senior project specialist materials and innovation at the Danish retailer. “This direct-to-farm approach also secures the business case for the farmers, both financially and practically, with long-term commitments and uptake agreements.”