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OCA Reports 350% Rise in Organic Cotton Farmers

The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), a group of industry partners with a common goal of promoting the potential of organic cotton for farmers, brands and the planet, saw strong growth in the number of farmers joining its program, with as many as 80,000 farmer participants in the cotton season of 2021-22.

This compares to 22,000 organic cotton farmers under its Farm Program during the 2020-21 season, representing a 350 percent increase.

OCA’s latest Farm Program Impact report, released Wednesday, underlines the business case for farmers to grow organic cotton. Brands and retailers participating in OCA’s Farm Program financially support the critical services provided to farmers, ranging from training in organic practices, supply of seed and bio-inputs, and procurement at a premium price.

Last year, OCA’s Farm Program saw a 180 percent increase in farmer numbers compared to the previous season, and these farmers earned on average 21 percent more in net profit from their cotton per hectare than their local non-organic peers. A combination of farmer premiums and lower production costs compensated for the lower yields of organic farmers results in a better business case for program farmers when compared to conventional farmers, the report stated.

OCA said the demand for organic cotton is increasing among many fashion brands. For example, Danish retailer Bestseller has set a target of sourcing 30 percent organic cotton by 2025, while H&M Group introduced in-conversion cotton to their sustainable material portfolio with an ambition to support farmers during transition and accelerate capacity building in the organic cotton sector.

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“As one of the largest consumers of organic cotton, it’s important for the H&M Group to invest in the development of the organic cotton sector,” Hitesh Sharma, material program manager for cotton at H&M Group, said. “As a founding member of OCA, we’ve been working together to build a sustainable organic cotton supply and financially support cotton farmers. Since our first farm project with OCA in 2017, we have continued to scale the volumes we source through the OCA Farm Program every year. The partners and farmers involved in these projects have continued to engage with us on this journey, demonstrating the commitment required from all parties if we are to realize the future of the organic cotton sector.”

The report shares case studies of farmers who with ongoing support through OCA’s Farm Program are planting organically and are seeing the economic benefits. An example includes Ritesh Champalal Dhiran, an organic cotton farmer in Maharashtra, India, who began planting organic cotton in 2008 and in the last season harvested more than 5,000 kilograms of cotton from his 3.6 hectare-farm for 3,315 euros ($3,672), on top of receiving a premium of 294 euros ($326).

“Organic cotton holds the key to a more sustainable fashion system and we see demand getting stronger,” Bart Vollaard, executive director at OCA, said. “More farmers are switching to organic farming and more global brands and retailers are expanding their organic cotton sourcing and investing the support required for farmers to grow organic successfully.”

“That is good news for farmers and for the planet, but switching to organic cotton is a long haul,” Vollaard added. “It takes up to three years for farmers to convert to organic cotton farming, a necessary period to build up the soil fertility and re-establish the balance of the ecosystem and farmers must be supported during this time, which is one of the key roles that OCA plays.”

The report noted that cotton is one of the most commonly used textiles in the fashion world, accounting for 25 percent of global fiber production in 2019. Cotton is also a chemically intensive crop, with nearly all cotton currently produced under nonorganic methods. Conventional farming methods contribute to climate change by releasing the majority of nitrous oxide that exists, a gas that has 300 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide, the report claimed. Land farmed in this way also contributes to habitat and biodiversity loss and degradation of soils, a non-renewable resource depleting at an alarming rate.

OCA’s mission is to achieve a transparent, responsible and resilient organic cotton supply chain and takes a holistic approach to improving the organic cotton sector. OCA’s new “2030 Strategy” sets out how it seeks to accelerate systematic change by a focus on five key pillars: farmers’ resilience and livelihoods, seed availability and diversity, scalability of organic farming, robust social and environmental farm-level data, and collaborative sector approach.