Maybe you already know that Fair Trade improves farmers' lives; well, Fair Trade cotton literally saves farmers' lives!. Let's have a look at how cotton is processed, then at the "normal" cotton farming situation, and finally at how Fairtrade has come to solve many problems.
|a cotton boll. Photo by J. Baxter|
Cotton is obtained from plants of the Gossypium genus, native to tropical and subtropical climates; most cotton grown currently comes from Gossypium hirsutum species, as it yields the best fibers.
After blooming, seeds appear inside a capsule full of fibers; when ripe, it opens to form the boll. Farmers pick these bolls and remove seeds from them by a process called ginning; once seeds and other residues are removed, cotton becomes almost pure cellulose fiber and it is packed to enter the mill.
A cotton mill is a place where fibers are carded to form a sliver so as to get them better aligned for spinning. Spinners produce the cotton thread which is then weaved into a textile; finally, the textile is ready to make clothing with it.
Similarly to other colonial crops, like coffee or cocoa, cotton is the main source of income for several South countries, and is the only crop for large groups of farmers. Cotton is today the most widespread vegetal textile around the world.
Cotton has been used by humans for dressing themselves from several thousands years, but it only began causing problems about two hundred years ago.
To start with the contemporary ones, let's recall a news that reached the mainstream media: cotton farmers in India were committing suicide because they were not able to meet their debt payments. Furthermore, to kill themselves they were drinking the poisonous chemicals they used to spray their crops. Miles Litvinoff presents more details on reason #10 of his beautiful book "50 reasons to buy Fair Trade".
There are also country-scale disasters; we should learn a lesson from the former Soviet Union, who diverted Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers to irrigate huge cotton fields (the so-called "white gold") in Central Asia. This has caused the Aral sea to shrink dramatically and be almost disappearing, not to mention heavy pollution from fertilizer run-off.
Cotton is likely to get lots of pests, so it's the most sprayed crop in the world; taking only a 3% of cultivated land, it receives 25 % of all insecticides.
As if this alone were not enough, let us only mention briefly some other history lessons:
In present days, besides the disasters detailed above,
... but Fair Trade cotton brings ...
|Fairtrade cotton farmer in Mali. Photo by niawag|
Well, like in Episode IV , Fair Trade has come to offer a new hope for cotton farmers, Fair Trade cotton is produced in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, India, Mali and Senegal, with 14 certified producers as of December 2006.
FLO released a standard for seed cotton (remember, the first stage of it) in 2005 and now farmers in Mali are receiving a price up to 70% higher than in the conventional market. Like other Fair Trade certification criteria, that for cotton encourages certified producers to diversify their crops, both for their food security and to have the soil reccovered.
You may want to click here to visit Fédération Yakaar Niani Wulli website. They are a producer from Senegal who grow organic cotton, gathering some one thousand farmers from 80 villages. Altough happy with the final outcome, they are one of the South producers with complaints about Fair Trade standards being more burdensome to them than to the North companies (you know, certification costs, transparency requirements...).
Among the main producers, we may cite Agrocel, based in India and gathering some 20.000 farmers; they grow organic Fair Trade cotton (using animal power for that!) and they even offer to serve the type and quality of cotton that a manufacturer may need for any special use. Agrocel has 12 service centers staffed with technicians who assist farmers in organic production.
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