Cotton farming with an eye to the future

22 Feb 2013 15:51


People Tree Founder and CEO Safia Minney on Fairtrade cotton ahead of Fairtrade Fortnight and the launch of the fashion brand’s new line…

I woke up in the small village of Rappa, in rural Gujarat, India. I came here to meet the farmers as they harvested their cotton for this collection. The birds were singing and there was the soft hum of bees. Women farmers in bright sarees were already in their fields.

Between the cotton plants they have so carefully grown for People Tree, grow aubergine, tomatoes and chillies that will go straight into their cooking pots.

In this peaceful birthplace of Gandhi you could be forgiven for romanticising the joys of village life. Farmers travel an hour by bullock cart on rough roads to buy sugar and other essentials; GMO seeds are blowing into neighbouring fields and toxic chemicals undermine their health, farms and livelihoods. The prices paid to farmers don’t even cover their costs, leaving them little choice but to send their children out to work at the age of twelve.

But this January, when I went to visit the producer group Agrocel, in Gujarat, North West India, who make People Tree organic cotton, I was shocked to see the effects of climate change.The rain is seven weeks late – and the crop is going to be too late for our next production run. The farmers explained how they need People Tree to keep paying a good price for their cotton and buy it even though it is late. People Tree works in long term partnership but it takes some organising and some creative problem solving. It’s such an unfair situation where people with the lightest environmental footprint such as our cotton farmers are having to take the brunt of climate change!

Organic cotton farming does help mitigate climate change, as the soil has lots of live matter, it holds the water in it like big sponge and keeps crops alive in times of drought. Usually the soil is as hard tarmac. Also with long term support of Fair Trade and organic, farmers have the support to quickly find alternative crops to ensure that their economic and food security is not threatened.

The other impressive support through Fair Trade are the primary school, books, computers and good teaching and a huge clean water pond. Fair Trade benefits not only People Tree farmers but the wider community too. It is amazing to think the difference choosing a Fairtrade and organic cotton dress can make!

We travelled to South India to see how the Fairtrade organic certified cotton is then tailored into beautiful dresses. Creative Arts of Soul is a Fair Trade group and also supports local coastal conservation projects. This is where the clothing production process begins - from the wonderful organic cotton fabrics being cut, carefully tailored and then boxed up for People Tree. There was a lot of pride and joy in everyone’s faces.

More than 70% of People Tree clothing is made with 100% organic and Fairtrade certified cotton. Other items are handwoven in Bangladesh, or hand-knitted in Nepal, using only natural materials and produced by hand, which is carbon-neutral.

Organic and Fairtrade farming has brought some of the control back to farmers and their villages. They have their own seed banks and are campaigning against GMO seeds. They have organised themselves and with support from consumers are challenging the exploitative trading systems and multinationals that keep them poor.

Find out more about People Tree, including new Orla Kiely and Peter Jensen collaborations for 2013 here:

Cotton farmers


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