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Organic Cotton Output Climbed 56 Percent in 2017/18, Highest Since Great Recession

With fiber choice an important way for brands to raise their sustainability profile, organic cotton is often the go-to raw material for many apparel labels.

To meet that need, global production of organic cotton increased 56 percent in the 2017-2018 crop year, with growth expected to continue, according to the latest data from Textile Exchange’s newly released “Organic Cotton Market Report 2019.” That put worldwide production of organic cotton fiber at 180,971 metric tons for the year–the highest volume seen since 2009-10, when the global financial crisis drove a dramatic decline.

This growth looks set to continue, Textile Exchange said. Cotton is grown organically in 19 countries around the world and the Organic Cotton Market Report reveals that 98 percent of the production stems from just seven of these, with India at 47 percent, China at 21 percent, Kyrgyzstan at 12 percent, Turkey at 6 percent, Tajikistan at 5 percent and the U.S. and Tanzania at 3 percent each.

Organic cotton now makes up 0.7 percent of total cotton production globally. In 2017-2018, the fiber was planted on a total of 356,131 hectares, with an additional 44,394 hectares in transition to organic. Production was carried out by a total of 182,876 farmers, the majority of whom were smallholders growing organic cotton in rotation with other crops.

With increased awareness of and interest in the climate emergency facing the planet, organic cotton is an important component to the many solutions that need to be implemented, Textile Exchange said.

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“Organic cotton, alongside other organic land-based fibers, must be part of the future,” Liesl Truscott, director of Europe and materials strategy at Textile Exchange, said. “Organic cotton farmers, organizations, companies and other enablers represented in this report provide a guiding light. We…are committed to leveraging organic cotton as a market-driven solution to industry transformation and meeting the global goals.”

The number of facilities certified to voluntary organic standards is also on the rise, with those certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard and Textile Exchange’s Organic Content Standard growing 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in the time period.

In India, organic cotton farmers increased the proportion of certified land used to grow cotton, as opposed to other crops, to 70 percent from 45 percent for the year. Farmer access to cotton seed that has not been genetically modified (GM) remains a major obstacle for organic farmers, particularly in countries such as China and India, where GM cotton dominates the cotton landscape, the report noted.

“Organic production of cotton is the tip of the spear that has been driving change within the sector,” La Rhea Pepper, managing director of Textile Exchange, said. “It establishes a direction of travel for all of us, starting with regenerative soil practices.”

Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit for the sustainable fiber and materials industry, with more than 400 members who represent leading brands, retailers and suppliers. The organization manages and promotes a suite of six leading industry standards. It also collects and publishes critical industry data and insights that enable brands and retailers to measure, manage and track their use of preferred fiber and materials.