ISSUE 2: The social costs of cotton

Happy Earth Day! In an era of lockdown and quarantine, reflection on our relationship with nature now seems more relevant than ever. Yet the human and social cost of the products we buy is often little known.

 As part of CAFIN’s celebration of Fashion Revolution Week, we’ve released our second animation (Issue 2), to raise awareness of the hidden costs farmers and their families bear in the cotton farming supply chain, and to highlight the value in consuming cotton-based goods which have been produced with ethics at their heart.

The life of a cotton farmer, their family and local community, isn’t easy. Cotton farming isn’t very profitable for many small farmers - they often receive little support or training and yields are low, or at times destroyed due to unpredictable environmental conditions. 

 Smallholder cotton farmers spend up to 60% of their annual income on pesticides - farmers buy agrochemicals on credit at the start of the season and often yields at the end of the season are too meager to pay off these costs – just one bad harvest can tip a farmer into debt.

Most cotton farmers are barely able to cover their output costs, let alone make any profit to support their families. India – which competes with the likes of the US, where cotton is heavily subsidised – is grappling with the rising costs of genetically modified seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the impact of weather patterns. GM seeds account for 95% of cotton farming in India, where workers are paid about £65 per month – well below the recommended living wage.

Bt cotton, introduced in India in 2002, was the first GM crop to be grown in the country. Every year, many farmers must purchase fresh Bt seeds as retailers sell them only as hybrid cultivars, which prevents growers from replanting them the following year.

Tragically, India has been experiencing a prolonged wave of suicides among cotton farmers (more than 300,000 since 1995) - the impacts of the current pandemic on these communities is unthinkable. Some observers have linked the deaths to the high price of genetically modified seeds flooding the market, which is piling pressure on poorly paid growers, forcing many into a cycle of unmanageable debt. 

Many farmers have lost hope that the situation would improve "It is an epidemic. How many more farmers need to commit suicide before the government steps in to find a solution to this problem?".

At CAFIN we explore innovative ways of creating the most environmentally sustainable, and ethically conscious clothing. Choosing clothes which have been manufactured with Organic Soil Association accredited cotton, ensuring farmers are treated with dignity and respect, can provide farming families and their communities with a more stable, accessible, abundant and diverse food supply and another source of income.

Rather than becoming reliant on a handful of multinational corporations, organic cotton farmers save their seeds year after year, and work with the environment in a long-term, sustainable way.

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