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» Organic cotton: problems for the producers

By Aydin Unsal, Chairman of the Board for Egedeniz Tekstil, located in Izmir, Turkey


When the business of organic cotton first started, like in many other crops, it was grown to order. Growers, cooperatives and companies with organic projects planted cotton according to the commitments they received from buyers in an agreement at the time of planting. This has been the case until the early 2000’s. Demand has grown considerably since then, and supply was usually short; therefore a large amount of new acreage was added to meet the demand. During this demand increase, even if no exact commitments were given, producers more or less knew they would be able to sell their crops.

Now we have reached a time where demand may not catch the growth rate of supply. Due to over production, many growers will not continue planting organic cotton as they are not satisfied with their income. This has been the case during the past 2 crop years, especially this season in Turkey as growers could not pay the credits they borrowed. Many of them regret that they have not planted conventional wheat, corn or tomatoes like their neighbors who are making more money and do not have to go through the hard work of growing cotton.

Another point is the fact that they have to face on sale of rotation crops. Unfortunately most of the time there is no market for their organic wheat or corn and they have to sell these at conventional crop prices.

Also, high subsidies provided in EU and USA cotton, combine with lower costs in developing countries, bring down the price of coventional cotton. This is immediately reflected on organic cotton prices and unfortunately the cost of extra work they have to do for organic growing cannot be rewarded. In the end they are reluctant to grow cotton because of this. During the past couple of years, there have been various certification frauds and GMO seed issues in various growing countries; this has further decreased organic cotton prices. Local growers have suffered due to the import of such cotton into Turkey.

With all of these reasons, organic cotton is about to become just any other commodity. It will not be a special product and organic farmers will have to choose to grow other crops. If we do not provide good incentives, either by government or as buyers for organic cotton and its products, we may start losing even dedicated farmers for whom we have worked very hard over the years to convert to organic farming.

There is also an increased risk for cotton merchants and brokers who have contracted with farmers to purchase their crop at satisfactory levels for the farmers. The merchants and brokers buy from the farmers at harvest time and sell to mills, carrying the inventory until the new crop. Without clear market signals and purchase orders, the merchants and brokers will not want to take the risk of purchasing fiber.

Merchants and brokers provide a valuable link in the value-chain to supply the spinners, manufacturers and retailers to gather farmer stocks together and provide a steady source of fiber through the year. Farmers are not in a position to carry fiber stocks over a long period of time. Merchants and brokers are also able to secure uniform quality, sustainability or source and authenticity of the certification.

We have to sustain increase of organic cotton production by:

  • Continuous commitment from textile industry
  • Pay good, or at the minimum, fair prices for organic cotton
  • Cover financial needs of farmers during growing periods
  • Keep integrity in organic cotton and buy from reliable sources
  • Educate farmers by explaining benefits for the environment and their underground waters
  • Reward all the people in the chain who are committed to organic.

 

 

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