Spinning Recovery from Organic Cotton

Spinning Recovery from Organic Cotton
by Pragya Singh

NEW DELHI, MAY 23: At least one thousand cotton growers couldn’t care less if Bt Cotton booms or the textile quota goes. These farmers in Punjab and Gujarat have opted to grow only organic cotton, giving pesticides, fertilisers and GM seeds the big heave-ho from their lands.

In doing so, they have bumped into a goldmine of opportunity in exporting organic cotton textiles and readymades, currently the rage in Europe and the US.

”They are saying ‘No’ to the short-term gains and long-term losses of pesticide – and fertiliser-intensive farming, and there’s tremendous new business opportunity. Europe is extremely conscious about pesticide residues in cotton, after reports linked them with cancer,” says Hasmukh Patel, head, services, Agrocel India in Mandvi, Kuchch.

Since 1988, Agrocel, a government of Gujarat-Shroff Group of Industries partnership, has trained around 750 farmers in Gujarat to grow cotton conventionally over 3,000 acres. It took years before going 100 per cent green delivered results: Agrocel is winning export contracts from the likes of Oxfam in Belgium, Marks and Spencer and Bishopson in the UK.

”Bt Cotton yields 1,400 kg/acre or more while conventional cotton yields 600 kg/acre, but Kuchch couldn’t support intensive irrigation for Bt. However, local cotton varieties are high-quality, pest-resistant and use less water, which proved successful” says Sailesh Patel, Agrocel’s marketing head.

Though the numbers are too small yet to quantify, even the experts favour completely organic cotton textiles, saying the niche export can easily go to India’s advantage. ”Organic cotton is a small segment, but catching up fast. Having contamination-free cloth that meets environmental safeguard standards is a big issue in the West – fast gaining currency in India too,” says Sidharth Rajagopalan, ED, Texprocil.

Till a year back, the organic farmers were happy just saving Rs 12,000 on farm inputs, but as the textile quota regime drew to a close, export orders started getting bigger.

”The latest is from Marks and Spencer, from whom we supply a new ‘Yoga Wear’ brand,” says Hasmukh Patel, ”We’re also going to export baby wear, since all our products are untouched by chemicals right from the seeds to the buttons stitched on them,” he adds.

As a result of these successes, the wave in support of organic cotton farming has spread to other states – and other crops.

In Punjab, a group of seven farmer organisations have got together under ‘POFA’, the Punjab Organic Farmers’ Association, which targets a completely-organic Punjab hinterland. ”In Ludhiana, reports and studies have shown deaths and deformities in babies and children due to pesticide overuse. We need to reverse this and that is why we have collected under POFA, which started this year,” says Jatinder Preet, one of the founders.

Besides, pesticides account for 55 per cent of the cost of growing cotton in the country, making it an ideal crop to target first.

In all, Agrocell supports 20,000 farmers growing all crops organically, in eighteen centres. POFA’s organic farmers are fewer, but fast-growing too. Jatinder Preet says more than a few hundred are in its ambit already.

”Organic certification is not easy, and farmers are reluctant to leave their fields free to rejuvenate for a year or two. But going 100 per cent organic is the only way ahead for Punjab,” he avers.

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