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On the Uptake: Record 250K Tons of Organic Cotton Grown in 2019-20

Textile Exchange’s 2021 Organic Cotton Market Report shows the 2019-20 crop year was a record-setting one, with the largest volume of organic cotton fiber harvested globally.

In total, 229,280 farmers grew 249,153 tons of organic cotton fiber on 588,425 hectares of certified organic land in 21 countries. This represents 4 percent growth in fiber volume and is the fourth year in a row that organic cotton production has increased, Textile Exchange said. Organic cotton accounted for almost 1 percent of the global cotton harvest in the season.

Ranked by production, the top seven organic cotton-producing countries, which together account for 95 percent of global production, were India at 50 percent, followed by China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Tanzania, Tajikistan and the U.S. Two new countries–Uzbekistan and Myanmar–joined the lineup of organic cotton producers and at least another three countries are expected to join in the next few years. The biggest contributors to the global growth seen were Tanzania and Kyrgyzstan, followed by Uganda, the U.S., Pakistan, India and Turkey.

“The demand for organic cotton has been growing steadily, particularly the last four years,” La Rhea Pepper, Textile Exchange founder and CEO, said. “All signs point to increasing demand for organic cotton as brands expand their use of the fiber in their product lines in response to concerns over the textile industry’s impact on the environment and consumer demands for sustainable choices.”

India again had the most land in conversion to organic, followed most closely by Turkey, Tajikistan and Tanzania. At least 50,552 hectares of cotton land were in conversion to organic cotton in 2019-20. This is equivalent to 8 percent of the total certified production area.

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Textile Exchange said organic cotton production is set to jump in 2020-21, with an estimated 48 percent growth, stemming predominantly from India and Turkey. In India, this growth is largely a result of increased demand causing organic cotton prices to increase, Textile Exchange said. This, in turn, makes it a more attractive option for farmers and is leading existing producers to dedicate a larger share of their certified organic land to growing cotton versus other crops.

In Turkey, increased demand is also the main driver, but the growth is more a result of new producers starting up organic cotton production.

“Textile Exchange urges all brands to ‘plan for planting,’ including supporting the conversion years to ensure that organic will be available to meet their future needs,” Textile Exchange fiber strategist Rui Fontoura said.

The report also discussed organic cotton pricing, noting that with the current mismatch between supply and demand, the prices paid for organic cotton at all stages of the supply chain have been increasing.

“Whether this lasts will depend on many factors, including the level of investment in capacity building, choice of sourcing models, depth of relationships and commitments between supply chain actors,” the report said. “The difficulty of ensuring a fair price for all is a major barrier to scaling up organic cotton and other preferred fibers and materials. While brands and retailers need to make a profit, their pricing decisions directly affect the livelihood and working conditions of the most vulnerable stakeholders–the millions of people in rural communities and along the organic cotton supply chain.

According to the report, in 2019/20, organic cotton fiber prices averaged $2.10 per kilogram compared to the Cotlook A global index of traditional cotton prices that averaged $1.85 per kilogram over the same time period.

In the area of regenerative agriculture, the report said the positive association between organic agriculture and soil health “is unquestionable.”

“Farming practices used in organic agriculture, such as crop rotation, green manure, composting, reduced tillage and the recycling of crop residue, can help increase the amount of organic matter–including carbon–in the soil,” it said. “As a result, soil structure is improved and soil erosion is reduced, making nutrients more easily available to the crops while also increasing the abundance of soil fauna. These regenerative practices build on indigenous knowledge developed by local farming communities throughout centuries. Indigenous knowledge and holistic land management practices are vital to organic farming systems and will play a key role in agroecosystem regeneration and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”