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C&A Foun­da­tion work­ing to ad­dress con­cerns in or­ganic cotton sup­ply chain

Farm­ers at the core of all or­ganic pro­grams Mad­hya Pradesh emerges as fron­trun­ner of or­ganic move­ment ‘The Cotton Trail­blaz­ers’ brings stake­hold­ers to­gether in Bhopal to cel­e­brate the ef­forts of MP in the do­main

About 24 per cent of the world’s or­ganic cotton is pro­duced in Mad­hya Pradesh. This is good for In­dian farm­ers, good for Mad­hya Pradesh and good for In­dia. Most of all, it is good for the ap­parel in­dus­try to which it sup­plies. The ap­parel in­dus­try de­pends to a great ex­tent on cotton; 26 per cent of all gar­ments and tex­tiles are made from cotton, but cotton cul­ti­va­tion is not with­out its chal­lenges. It is a ‘thirsty crop’ us­ing co­pi­ous amount of wa­ter. When grown con­ven­tion­ally, the chem­i­cals that it uses can dam­age the health of the farm­ers, their com­mu­ni­ties, and of the en­vi­ron­ment.

C&A Foun­da­tion is a cor­po­rate foun­da­tion af­fil­i­ated to global re­tailer, C&A. Its aim is to trans­form the ap­parel in­dus­try, work­ing with part­ners such as Non-Govern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tions, brands, and Gov­ern­ments to ad­dress the sys­temic is­sues that makes fash­ion one of the world’s most pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries.

The detri­men­tal ef­fects of cotton cul­ti­va­tion, is one of those is­sues that C&A Foun­da­tion is work­ing to tackle by ac­cel­er­at­ing the pro­duc­tion of or­ganic cotton.

In al­most every as­pect, or­ganic cotton is bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment and for the farm­ers who grow it. By elim­i­nat­ing all haz­ardous syn­thetic chem­i­cals in its pro­duc­tion; or­ganic cotton of­fers a healthy and sus­tain­able farm­ing fu­ture for farm­ers, their fam­i­lies and the en­vi­ron­ment. Re­mov­ing this toxic im­pact means re­ju­ve­nat­ing the soil and its fer­til­ity. In the long run this low in­put pro­duc­tion sys­tem also of­fers eco­nomic ben­e­fits to farm­ers. A re­cent Life Cy­cle Anal­y­sis study con­ducted in Mad­hya Pradesh shows that or­ganic cotton con­sumes 93 per cent less fresh wa­ter than con­ven­tional cotton. Its cli­mate change po­ten­tial is also al­most 50 per cent less than con­ven­tional cotton. At the same time, the global de­mand for or­ganic cotton is in­creas­ing.

Yet, the or­ganic cotton sec­tor has been on the brink of a se­ri­ous cri­sis for some years now. The chal­lenges in the sec­tor are not only vast, but also sus­tained by sys­temic mar­ket forces. Or­ganic cotton pro­duc­tion has been de­clin­ing for some time now. There is a lack of trans­parency in the or­ganic cotton sup­ply chain, in­tegrity of the prod­uct it­self is of­ten ques­tion­able and no real ben­e­fits are cas­cad­ing down to the thou­sands of small­holder farm­ers sus­tain­ing the sec­tor. Worse still, the en­ablers that will al­low the or­ganic sec­tor to thrive are miss­ing; there is only a lim­ited sup­ply of high-qual­ity non-GMO seeds, there is a se­vere lack of in­vest­ment into ex­ten­sion and the sup­ply chain is not or­ga­nized to al­low for fair dis­tri­bu­tion of value for or­ganic cotton farm­ers. At C&A Foun­da­tion we made it our busi­ness to try to fix this. The foun­da­tion works with nine part­ners across five coun­tries, touch­ing the lives of over 44,000 cotton farm­ers in In­dia, Pak­istan, China, Brazil and Tan­za­nia. In each of these coun­tries, C&A Foun­da­tion works with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers on dif­fer­ent lev­els to de­sign so­lu­tions that are holis­tic and in­ten­tional, de­signed to dis­rupt the sta­tus quo and al­ter the un­der­ly­ing struc­tures that are cur­rently hold­ing back the or­ganic cotton mar­ket.

But nowhere has this work been more im­por­tant than in In­dia, specif­i­cally in Mad­hya Pradesh. In­dia is the largest or­ganic cotton pro­duc­ing coun­try in the world and over 40 per cent of the to­tal agri­cul­tural land un­der or­ganic cul­ti­va­tion in In­dia is in Mad­hya Pradesh. The state is home to mar­ginal and tribal farm­ers who pro­duce nearly 24 per cent of the world’s or­ganic cotton. With this global im­por­tance, it is no won­der that the state has been proac­tive in set­ting a pol­icy frame­work that sup­ports the pro­mo­tion of or­ganic cul­ti­va­tion, launch­ing the State Pol­icy on Or­ganic Farm­ing in Mad­hya Pradesh in 2011.

Since 2014, C&A Foun­da­tion has been sup­port­ing cotton farm­ers in Mad­hya Pradesh to in­tro­duce or­ganic agri­cul­tural prac­tises in col­lab­o­ra­tion with four ded­i­cated part­ners – Ac­tion for So­cial Ad­vance­ment, Aga Khan Foun­da­tion, Cot­tonCon­nect and WWF-In­dia. It has in­vested over

EUR 5 mil­lion to sup­port over 25,000 small­holder cotton farm­ers in the state. In 2016-17, C&A Foun­da­tion part­ners re­ported on an ag­gre­gate that farm­ers in the pro­grams have seen an in­come in­crease of over 20 per cent as com­pared to con­ven­tional farm­ers in the same ar­eas, thanks to over 35 per cent de­crease in pro­duc­tion cost. This even when af­ter three years, or­ganic cotton yields re­main 15 per cent lower than that of con­ven­tional cotton.

Anita Ch­ester, Head of Sus­tain­able Raw Ma­te­ri­als for C&A Foun­da­tion ex­plains the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ap­proach: “Farm­ers are at the heart of our pro­gram and our part­ners work hard to build re­silience in the com­mu­ni­ties by help­ing them choose or­ganic over con­ven­tional. In scal­ing this mo­men­tum and ad­dress­ing bar­ri­ers jointly we have seen the strength of col­lab­o­ra­tion: of peo­ple, or­ga­ni­za­tions and the State Govern­ment work­ing to­gether.”

In ad­di­tion to di­rect farmer sup­port, the Foun­da­tion has also sup­ported farm­ers to unite into col­lec­tives to cre­ate an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for or­ganic cotton cul­ti­va­tion. Ashis Mon­dal, Founder and Manag­ing Di­rec­tor of C&A Foun­da­tion Part­ner, Ac­tion for So­cial Ad­vance­ment (ASA) ex­plains: “The true value of or­ganic cotton will only be un­locked when farm­ers are truly in­te­grated in the sup­ply chain. This can hap­pen through the power of col­lec­tives such as farmer pro­ducer com­pa­nies. With sup­port from C&A Foun­da­tion we have been able to at­tract oth­ers who have now joined us in this jour­ney. In the com­ing years ASA plans to en­gage 25,000 or­ganic cotton farm­ers in Mad­hya Pradesh and cre­ate a fed­er­a­tion of these farm­ers who will be the torch­bear­ers for the in­dus­try and the state.”

An­other im­por­tant ap­proach to the sys­temic is­sues is to work through col­lab­o­ra­tive plat­forms such as the multi-stake­holder ini­tia­tive that C&A Foun­da­tion jointly cre­ated with oth­ers, called the Or­ganic Cotton Ac­cel­er­a­tor (OCA). It con­venes ap­parel in­dus­try stake­hold­ers around a com­mon agenda for or­ganic cotton, catalysing ac­tion and co-or­di­nat­ing in­vest­ments at both the sup­ply and de­mand ends of the or­ganic cotton sup­ply chain. Apart from C&A the OCA in­cludes brands such as H&M, Eileen Fisher, Tchibo, In­di­tex to name a few.

Crispin Ar­gento, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Or­ganic Cotton Ac­cel­er­a­tor says of the ini­tia­tive: “Brands and re­tail­ers rec­og­nize that for the or­ganic cotton sec­tor to thrive there needs to be a clear busi­ness case for the farm­ers. We at the OCA are try­ing out var­i­ous busi­ness mod­els that cre­ates most value all across the sup­ply chain – in­clud­ing, and es­pe­cially, the or­ganic cotton farm­ers. Mad­hya Pradesh as the global leader for or­ganic cotton pro­duc­tion will lead the way for this change.”

C&A Foun­da­tion has also been en­gag­ing with the State Govern­ment to build a roadmap for scal­ing or­ganic farm­ing in Mad­hya Pradesh. Through a mul­ti­stake­holder plat­form sup­ported by the Foun­da­tion – the Or­ganic and Fair­trade Cotton Sec­re­tariat – sev­eral ini­tia­tives have started to ad­dress chal­lenges of or­ganic cotton cul­ti­va­tion in the state. This works along­side the State Govern­ment’s vi­sion to dou­ble farm­ers’ in­come by 2022, catalysing fur­ther growth. To­gether with its part­ners, C&A Foun­da­tion and the Govern­ment of Mad­hya Pradesh will con­tinue to sup­port or­ganic cotton farm­ers, and ex­pand the state’s ex­ist­ing lead­er­ship in or­ganic cotton in In­dia and the world, pos­i­tively im­pact­ing farmer liveli­hoods and con­tribut­ing to the cre­ation of re­spon­si­bly pro­duced con­sumer goods by ma­jor global brands.

These ef­forts will be fur­ther show­cased in an event called The Cotton Trail­blaz­ers in Bhopal on 8th May 2018. The event will bring to­gether di­verse stake­hold­ers in the or­ganic cotton sup­ply chain to cel­e­brate Mad­hya Pradesh’s po­si­tion as a leader in or­ganic cotton and show­case the role of or­ganic farm­ing, while invit­ing stake­hold­ers to con­tinue to work col­lab­o­ra­tively to build a pros­per­ous or­ganic cotton mar­ket that im­pacts all – from farm to store – pos­i­tively.

Di­nesh Khanna for C&A Foun­da­tion

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