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OCA Leads Group Investing in Organic Cotton Farming in India

In a bid to support farmers in the switch to organic cotton and to drive sustainability in the textile sector, the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) has joined forces with Tchibo, Dibella, Fairtrade Deutschland and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, which is hosting The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, for a pilot project in India.

More than 500 cotton producers in the Fairtrade cooperative Chetna in the Indian states of Odisha and Telangana will receive financial support, training in organic cotton cultivation and non-GM seed with the aim of harvesting 250 tons of organic cotton and cotton from fields in conversion per year.

“We selected India because the country is now the world’s largest organic cotton exporter–over 50 percent of sustainable cotton comes from there and there is potential for further expansion,” Nanda Bergstein, director of corporate responsibility at Tchibo, said.

OCA noted that cotton is the most used natural fiber in the global textile sector and as more brands seek to meet their sustainable sourcing goals, the demand for organic cotton is accelerating, but meeting this demand remains a challenge. Many producers find the costs of switching to organic to be too expensive and without appropriate training, support and access to non-GM seed, the transition period from conventional farming to organic farming can feel insurmountable.

The pilot will support the farmers with extensive training measures that will include efficient organic farming methods designed to promote capacity building in smallholder organic cotton production. The provision of GMO-free seed packages will overcome a significant hurdle in the transition process, as most of the cotton seeds in India are genetically modified.

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The producers will be supported during the three year in-conversion period, which is on average how long it takes to rid the soil of agrochemicals, OCA said. A minimum support price, which covers the costs of sustainable production, and an organic premium will be paid to organic farmers while farmers in-conversion will be supported by a Fairtrade Premium payment.

The pilot will also focus on women farmers by increasing the certification of women-led farms. More enterprises owned by female farmers means more women having increased independence through direct access and control over financial resources, OCA noted.

“The supply of organic cotton will only grow if we can ensure a business case for farmers, whether they are transitioning to organic farming or already certified,” Bart Vollaard, executive director at OCA, said. “The power of this pilot is that it has the right ingredients and the right partners. The binding and long-term cotton sourcing commitments by brands and retailers will be key to improving the economic resilience of farmers. We are excited to see this project inspire and inform larger-scale action by actors within the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and beyond.”

The OCA has joined the pilot project as the only multi-stakeholder organization fully dedicated to organic cotton that is committed to bringing integrity, supply security and measurable social and environmental impact to organic cotton. OCA will be responsible for measuring and validating the impact of the project.

Chetna is an umbrella of small cotton farmer cooperatives with a focus on addressing livelihoods, enhancing life quality and building farming community resilience through a 360 degree convergence intervention model around agroecological approaches, food and nutrition security, education, financial inclusion and building sustainable and traceable supply chains.

GIZ is Germany‘s top provider of international cooperation services. As a federal enterprise, it supports the German government in achieving its objectives in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development.

Fairtrade Germany is a nonprofit that strives for a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods. Fairtrade works through certification standards, producer advisory services, projects and programs, consumer awareness raising and education, market linkages and advocacy.

Tchibo uses a multi-channel distribution system to offer coffee and weekly changing non-food ranges, including textiles, in own shops, third-party retail outlets and online. In 2020, 96 percent of the cotton for Tchibo apparel and home textiles was sourced from more sustainable sources, mainly certified organic, aiming for 100 percent in 2022.

Dibella has been a Europe-wide textile service partner since 1986, offering long-life and high-performance flat linen for contract business in the hotel, hospitality and healthcare industries. The company’s goal is a complete closed loop for professional textile applications.