Cotton is regarded as the world’s dirtiest crop. It is the second most pesticide-laden crop using $2 billion worth of pesticide each year and 16% of the world’s insecticides. 100 million families dependent on cotton for their livelihood but even with a higher demand for organic cotton, only 150 000 cotton farmers farm organically, that’s only 1.5%.
Climate change is wrecking havoc on developing organic cotton programs and as I listened to Bena Burda, founder of Maggie’s Organics at the Fair Trade Federation conference, I couldn’t help but feel worried for their cotton partners. You could really tell that this is not just a business relationship they have with the Nicaraguan farmers, but that they have a close personal connection to them.
In 1980 Nicaragua’s 2nd largest export was cotton, since then soil erosion and pesticide over use has destroyed that market. Maggie’s Organic set up a sewing cooperative there in 1999 and in 2002 had originally planned to have the entire supply chain in Nicaragua but this did not work out due to several setbacks.
They have faced setbacks in fumigation and low yields, which took them into a partnership with a local university to develop a new cotton seed from 2005-2007. This new seed could hold up to the current climate of Nicaragua, it grew well and become quite profitable.
2014 consisted of an unreliable rainy season and 80% of the crop was lost. With no yield in 2015, the new seed variety is threatened and the 3rd generation may not work. Maggie’s may not be able to work with their Nicaragua’s partners anymore and will have to look elsewhere for cotton, something they wished not to do outside of Central and South America.
This is only one of many examples of how climate change has effected farmers, taking away a resources that for years provided them with income and now having to rethink their options. The Nicaraguan farmers Maggie’s works with are currently surviving on sesame seed crops and have began growing red beans for the Central American market.
These farmers are not to be underestimated, they are resourceful, skillful and beyond hard working. They have a commitment to sustainability, not because of trends but because they know it’s the best way, it makes sense and we take that for granted. We want our clothing to be cheap but lack the sight to see the damage that it does to our earth and the people on it.
Let’s choose organic cotton, let’s save our home and let’s support the million of small scale farmers who work so hard to provide us with something we need.