This month we’d like to shed the spotlight on Fair Trade and organic certified cotton and why it’s so important.
All over the world many cotton farmers are in dire circumstances, living in poverty and incapable of affording the expense of genetically modified seeds, pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers. Many conventional farmers and their families are ill as a result of the chemicals they use on their crop as they do not have proper protective clothing, also the run off from these chemicals damage the local eco systems and rivers.
Through organic and Fair Trade farming, farmers can save their seeds, benefit from Fair Trade premiums, and also benefit from farming support. Farmers are supported for example with the help of the introduction of drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a slow method of irrigation as opposed to spraying crops which can waste a lot of water through surface runoff or evaporation. It is extremely important in drought prone areas of India and can help reduce water consumption by up to 60%. Farmers use Fairtrade premiums to build wells and support local initiatives such as schools. In 2013 Agrocel Fairtrade farmers received £37,047 in Fairtrade premiums, 24% of which came directly through People Tree. Among other initiatives the Fairtrade premiums are spent on drip irrigation and construction of village ponds to conserve rainwater, provision of schoolbooks and clothes for children of poor farmers and villagers, farmer education and training programmes, solar street lamps in villages and relief fund to pay medical costs of poor farmers.
People Tree supports roughly 50 Fair Trade farmers in India, and we are hoping that through better awareness we can grow this number as more customers support Fair Trade and organic cotton.
We interviewed Shailesh from Agrocel about why he feels it’s important to shop Fair Trade and support Fair Trade Farmers…
Shailesh, what inspired you to start working with Fairtrade and organic agriculture?
I studied Rural Development with Agriculture. My parents are small farmers so I understand and feel the same problems which small farmers face. This is what inspired me to work for small farmers after my studies, and the organic and Fair Trade movement is a way to help small farmers.
Tell us about some of the challenges faced by conventional Indian cotton farmers today?
Most of the farmers depend on rain fed agriculture and this is very volatile for agricultural income. Farmers are small and mostly depend agriculture for their livelihoods. They have very limited resources and so the cost of agricultural inputs are much higher than compared to big farms.
Small farmers have limited knowledge and resources to increase their income, for example many farmers are already farming organically but they don’t have knowledge of international certifications and organic standards or for processing of organic farm product. At the same time, for non-organic farmers we also need to educate on the use of synthetic materials and their impact on environment. Another big problem is that the price for agricultural produce is going down, so farmers are not getting fair price for produce such as cotton.
How does a Fair Trade organic cotton farm differ from a conventional cotton farm?
Organic and Fairtrade farming provides sustainability, not only in terms of farming but social and environment as well. There are so many benefits which producers get from their Fairtrade social premium which have a good impact on their social, environment and economic development. Farmers are more educated and aware about organic farming and how to do it successfully.
What are the challenges for Fairtrade and organic farming?
There is not a sufficient demand of organic and Fairtrade produce, and also not enough brands committing to buying organic and Fairtrade. Also only a few customer such as People Tree give a firm long term commitment to buying organic and Fairtrade cotton.
Tell us about drip irrigation and what difference it has made?
There is a number of benefit from drip irrigation. Producer can irrigate double land compare to normal irrigation, this means farmers save up to 50% water through this system. It saves time and cost, and helps control weeds.
How important is Fairtrade and organic farming to the future of Indian agriculture? / Why is it important for consumers to buy organic cotton over conventional cotton?
I think Fairtrade and organic farming is only way to provide proper sustain
ability to farmers in the future. The organic and Fairtrade system is protecting farmers in three ways – economically through Fair Trade minimum prices, environmentally by protecting soil, farms and agriculture, and socially through group farming, Fairtrade social premiums, help to educate on new technology and also by providing a global platform for small producers.
What message do you have for today’s fashion consumers?
I would like to say that I hope through this interview I have convinced customers as to why they should become loyal customers of organic and Fair Trade products. I would love to invite all the People Tree customers to visit our projects and really see the impact which we get through this project for our small producers.