I dont need to make the case for Fairtrade cotton

The case for fairtrade and organic cotton makes itself .

In India, since 1997 there have been nearly 200,000 farmer suicides, according to some reports the rate is now at one suicide every 30 minutes.

The amjority of the suicides are in the notorious ‘big five’ states, India’s suicide belt of Maharashtra, Andhara Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which account for approximately 66% of the total.

Of these, Maharashtra is the worst, having logged 41,404 suicides since 1997. It is claimed now that about ten farmers kill themselves every day in the state.

In 2008 a bundle of relief was handed out to farmers by government bodies, but that hardly seemed to dent the number of desperate people taking their own lives. The following year, 2009 was a drought year, as yet there are no figures for 2009, but it would seem obvious that they are going to be worse.

These figures arent unique to India, all over the developing world similar stories are told of farmers who take their own lives because of effective slavery to debt (caused often by the unscrupulous sales tactics of chemical salesmen). Also these farmers have no guaranteed income, if their crops fail, they get nothing, and if they have already spent a lot on chemicals, they get less than nothing… and if they have chosen a cash crop over any kind of subsistence farming, rather than a combination as favoured in an organic set up… then they have less than nothing and no food.

Farmers of all kinds of cash crops are trapped in cycles of debt and poverty which, combined with the hard nature of the practical work they are involved in, are too much for them. Desperate and helpless, they take the only way out they can think of.

In accredited organic and fairtrade systems, the farmers are liberated from the crushing debt cycles to which others are subject. They are supported through the development processes by NGOs and cotton companies who have an interest in ensuring the farmers are making a viable living, not completely dependent upon cash crops, and not destroying their land through the mono culture cultivation practises of conventional agriculture.

I dont need to make the case for fairtrade cotton, the farmer suicides alone make a compelling enough case. Rather those companies and consumers who continue to choose conventional cotton over organic and fairtrade need to make a case for their lethal choices.


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.

Urban farming

Something I’m really quite interested in is urban farming, it’s something which I think about quite a bit in relation to my ‘big picture’ vision for sustainable community life.

I think the term ‘farming’ is quite important, after all ‘farmers’ are professionals, to farm is to have a purpose in your production of livestock or crops which goes beyond ‘hobby’ status.

To say that one is a gardener can mean anything from tending the occasional tulip, to practically full time vegetable growing or even small scale livestock (chickens, ducks, geese, fish or bees can all be kept by a gardener). It is also often taken to mean that you do work for other people in their gardens, grass cutting or etcetera.

To describe ones activity as farming on the other hand takes it to another level, the term can be defined as relating to a way of life which is based upon the practise of agriculture, which itself can be defined as the raising of livestock or crops through the purposeful culture of the ground.

Farming is a way of life, and a job, it is worthy of recognition as such, and it is high time it was reunderstood – to allow a greater amount of urban growers to re-understand the dignity of their work.

Can what I do be described as urban farming? Not yet, not enough time has been spent in cultivation of one sort or another. But that should be about to change, and when it has, then maybe I too can be an urban farmer, albeit of a permacultural rather than an agricultural nature.

Ooh arr.

An organic cotton success story

There’s still a lot of tosh talked about Organic cotton, that it’s too thirsty, that yields are too low, and that its not a sustainable way to grow fibres, but there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Even if there weren’t, we’re starting from a point where we can show that the conventional ways of growing cotton are totally unsuitable, and increasingly damaging to the natural environment, as well as the growers.

So it’s great to be able to point you to this 8 page feature from Eco textile magazine, which takes an in depth look at the Swiss BioRe project in Tanzania, which is proving to be a great success.

I encourage you to read this and consider how much the organic premium costs you when you’re choosing a tee-shirt, shirt, or pair of pants, compared to how much it costs those farmers who are slaving away in debt to chemical companies. Organic cotton is not the holy grail, but when the choice is there, it’s the moral high ground.

Bee-keeping free e-books and news

With the recent mega surge of interest in bees here in the UK it seems like the obvious thing for the people who brought us the ‘omlet’ chicken house, to have designed a cool new bee hive.

The Omlet ‘Bee Haus’ is the latest thing in beekeeping circles, for super cool bee keepers to keep their new brood in. Its a pretty high tech solution to the problem of keeping bees happy, one of the good things about it is the way it is raised up from the ground, saving the poor old bee-keeper from that ruinous bending and lifting. One of the bad things though is that it will sting you about £500 of your english quids, that’s a lot of honey, unless you’re somehow producing Manuka honey, in which case its only about half a dozen jars 🙂

If like me, you prefer the lower tech approach, you may find more of interest on the site of the barefoot bee-keeper, which is all about natural, chemical free, bee-keeping in top bar hives.

You can download for free, a basic guide to this sort of bee-keeping, and to building a top bar hive, which is much more my kind of thing than the swanky bee-haus, albeit my carpentry skills are such that I’d probably be better off with Omlet’s offering.

Anyhow, I’m in no real danger of keeping bees any time soon, seems like an intensive occupation to me, plus at the moment there’s a shortage of swarms, as new people are taking up bee-keeping all the time, on the back of the news about colony collapse disorder, fears about pollination etc.

We do however have a simple Mason (solitary) bee nest box on our plot, which is great, and has been home to about eight bees and their larvae this summer, which is pretty good I think.

If you’re really interested in keeping bees, I would reccomend you check out this free e-book version of ‘bee keeping for all’ which details the Warre method of beekeeping, which is straightforward, natural, and makes a lot of sense to me.