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Organic Cotton Production Grew 31 Percent in 2018/19, With Signs of More to Come

Organic cotton production is ramping up.

For the 2018/19 harvest year, production of organic cotton increased 31 percent over the previous period–the second-largest harvest on record after 2009/10–and shows promise for continued growth, according to pre-COVID reporting in Textile Exchange’s “2020 Organic Cotton Market Report.”

In a post-COVID world, the report noted, organic cotton has the potential to restore health and promote positive climate action.

As many as 222,134 farmers grew 239,787 metric tons of organic cotton in 19 countries on 418,935 hectares of land in 2018-19. In addition, 55,833 hectares of cotton-growing land were in conversion to organic, helping to meet the increasing demand. Organic cotton is generally defined as cotton grown from non-genetically modified plants and without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals, like fertilizers or pesticides, with the exception of those allowed by the certified organic labeling.

“Organic farming is a way of living in harmony with the land and is a way to honor life–life in the soil for the farm, for the family, for the community and ultimately for the world,” La Rhea Pepper, managing director for Textile Exchange and a life-long organic cotton farmer, said. “In times like the COVID-19 pandemic we are reminded just how connected we are to each other. We are an ecosystem and what we do impacts the whole.”

Textile Exchange works to accelerate environmentally sustainable practices in the textile value chain, which has positive impacts on climate and goes hand-in-hand with social responsibility expectations to ensure that the rights of all people are respected. The Lubbock, Tex.-based group said it applauds the growers and companies that make long-term investments in and prioritize the transparency of commitments to their products with globally recognized, credible, third-party standards.

The growth of such standards was also reported alongside the production increase for 2018/19. Facilities certified to leading voluntary organic textile standards saw significant growth. One certified to the Organic Content Standard (OCS) grew 48 percent and those certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) increased 35 percent.

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According to report findings, 97 percent of global organic cotton was produced in seven countries: India (51 percent), China (17 percent), Kyrgyzstan (10 percent), Turkey (10 percent), Tajikistan (5 percent), Tanzania (2 percent) and the U.S. (2 percent). Of the 55,833 hectares of land in conversion to organic, India and Pakistan lead the way, followed by Turkey, Greece, and Tajikistan.

“To have enough organic cotton to address demand, it is important to promote the expansion of organic cotton cultivation by promoting both in-conversion and organic cotton production,” Nobuyasu Nakamura, sales specialist in Itochu Corp.’s pre organic cotton program, said in the report. “To make the in-conversion cotton market sustainable, the next step is to build a bigger collaborative supply chain with apparel brands to encourage sustainable consumption and promote in-conversion cotton.”

Based on pre-COVID estimates, the report estimated that organic cotton production will grow 10 percent in thee just completed 2019/20 crop season.

“Over the next few months, perhaps even years, business planning and relations will be challenging and difficult to predict,” said Liesl Truscott, director of European and materials strategy at Textile Exchange. “For cotton farmers, that unpredictability will impact the next growing cycle and, for textile manufacturers, brands, and retailers, the next uptake and consumption cycle. One thing that is for sure is that the “new normal” will require much more transparency and sharing of the risks and rewards as we collectively aspire to “Climate Action” as well as the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals. Communication and trust will be key.”