Organic cotton in China?

On my visits to India this year, I’ve been particularly interested to talk to Indian people about their perspective on China, with whom, many feel, the Indians are engaging in a new cold war.

Of course my particular interest (not withstanding the wider geo-politics) is in textiles and raw materials, especially cotton. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Mumbai Bio Fach for a short time on my last trip, and was fascinated to see the scope of organic and sustainable products on offer from India. But as yet the potential is largely untapped, it is seen as an export market, not a domestic one – a situation which is likely to change rapidly I predict.

India, like China, produces lots of cotton. In the area of organic cotton at least India has the jump on China. The Indians also have the benefit of qualifying for potential Fair Trade accreditation, wheras Chinese cotton is unable to apply because of the government’s human rights record.

What China can do though, is move incredibly fast.

So when the Chinese do decide to go for Organic cotton in a big way, which they are bound to, it will be very big. Some of my friends are already leading the way in terms of pioneering large scale organic cotton farming projects in China, and they seem to be nearing the end of the red tape which has held them back so far.

The situation in China is very serious, if you want a good example of how destructive conventional cotton can be to an environment you can look to China where huge irrigation and chemical inputs have contributed to desertification on a massive scale. Chinese cotton, like central Asian cotton, while cheap to the consumer – exacts a high price from those caught in the tail end of the production cycle.One government official went so far as to claim that the price of environmental damage to land and health offset the country’s 10% economic growth rate. This report makes sobering reading.

It’s no suprise then that moves are apparently afoot among Chinese government to press ahead with organic cotton farming trials. And you just know that when it happens, it will of course be massive. But so far my Indian friends arent too concerned, they have an established foot hold in the organic cotton market, they have a number of well established producer groups who meet ethical standards, and have proven to be socially and environmentally beneficial to their communities, and they have a manufacturing base which is in some sectors keeping up with demand.

I must say though that they do seem a lot stronger in knit production (tee-shirts and so on) than wovens (formal shirts, trousers) which is perhaps a reflection on the demand rather than the background of the producers. Organic cotton seems to sell much more readily in fashionable teeshirts and cutesy baby clothes than it does in formal and work wear – this is perhaps a reflection on price and fashions rather than anything more serious.

But yes dear reader, expect to see organic cotton coming on strong from China in the next few years, it’s about time. And for those still buying new garments in conventional cotton, please remember that in doing so you are participating in environmental havoc and destruction. The choices are there, you can buy organic or second hand if you need to buy at all.

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