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Scaling Organic Cotton Focus of Inaugural Conference

Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and IFOAM – Organics International (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) are joining together to cohost an event dedicated to organic cotton.

The inaugural Organic Cotton and Textiles Conference will be held in Indore, India from Feb. 27 to March 2, with programming spanning talks, workshops and an excursion. This multi-day event is designed to advance organic cotton by fostering collaboration across the supply chain.

“It’s been three years since we have organized a large in-person event, especially one that brings together the full spectrum of key players across the supply chain,” an OCA spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “Since then, the organic cotton and textile sector has expanded, demand has increased and innovation has advanced. With this growth come new challenges and opportunities, and we are determined to keep pace and ensure impact and integrity are front and center of what we are collectively aiming to achieve.”

During two days of sessions on Feb. 28 and March 1, speakers from nonprofits, governments, academia, manufacturers and brands—such as Levi Strauss and Ikea—will discuss key issues including social responsibility and working conditions, supply chain transparency and connectivity, and the role that both private and public sectors can play in accelerating organic cotton.

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GOTS believes that collaboration is critical to scaling organic cotton and agriculture across the globe and recognizes that this effort will require significant investment and funding,” said Rebecca Gollin, GOTS public relations specialist. “By working together, governments, NGOs, companies and other stakeholders can leverage their respective strengths and expertise to drive progress.”

Providing an on-the-ground perspective, seven farmers will participate in a Q&A session to discuss their experiences in growing organic cotton as well as insights on biodiversity and certification. They will also address the challenges they have faced and best practices. Giving the attendees further insight into organic cotton-growing practices in India, OCA and its partner Pratibha will host a visit to a farming community in Petlawad.

“It all starts with farmers. Without organic farmers, there is no organic cotton,” the OCA spokesperson said. “They are the stewards of the land, and by growing their crops in an agricultural system that works with nature rather than against it, they hold the key to sustaining and promoting the health of soils, ecosystems and people. That is why we must listen to the farmers and understand their reality.”

The almost 200 attendees can also participate in workshops and networking opportunities designed to strengthen partnerships among industry stakeholders.

“By focusing on key and critical topics and bringing all changemakers to the same table, we allow for tough and honest conversations, give space for ideas to be shared and lay the foundations for future initiatives,” Gollin said. “Participants will leave with a better understanding of the organic sector, their role and the tools needed to make changes for a better future. Most important, we are creating a space for our guests to forge closer relationships with each other and ultimately empower the entire supply chain.”

Organic expansion

Organic cotton is on the rise. Per data from Textile Exchange, 342,000 tonnes of organic cotton fiber were produced globally in the 2020-21 crop year, up about 37 percent from 2019-20. However, organic fiber represented only an estimated 1.4 percent of all cotton grown. That year, India was the largest producer of organic cotton, accounting for 38 percent of global output.

Organic cotton cultivation is expanding in India, according to OCA’s Farm Programme Impact Report. For the 2021-22 crop year, 74,229 farmers participated in OCA’s program, triple the number from 2020-21. Additionally, the volume of seed cotton procured within the program was 65,547 metric tons, up 109 percent from the previous year.

One reason for this expansion, said OCA, is the rapid rise of “in-conversion” farmers who are on a three-year path to achieve full organic certification. This group numbered 22,500 in 2021-22, compared to just 4,000 in the prior crop year. OCA pointed to factors including high organic cotton demand, reduced input costs and support systems as the driving forces for in-conversion farmers to make the move toward organic.

Organic cotton has also been more lucrative for these farmers. Those who sold their cotton through OCA’s program earned 6 percent higher net income than local conventional cotton growers.

“I do not want to go back to the conventional method of farming. Most of my investment was used for fertilizers and pesticides, and in turn this negatively affected the soil health of my agricultural land,” said Dipak, an OCA farmer from Kutki village in Wardha district of Maharashtra, who added that he intends to switch all of his crops to organic.

OCA farmer Dipak

Expanding these efforts, OCA piloted its program in Pakistan in 2021-22 with help from local partners including Artistic Milliners and Soorty, and it officially launched in Pakistan in 2022.  

“The expansion of our program to include support for in-conversions farmers, developing the potential of Pakistan, and making sure farmers have the tools, training and support required, all highlight our mission to drive impact and improvements,” said Ruud Schute, program director at OCA.