Making cotton more sustainable

Conventional agricultural practices have long relied on chemicals to boost the their productivity, but the overuse of chemicals over the years has impacted the health of both the consumers as well the environment. In particular, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming has lead to the degradation of the quality of groundwater. While chemical additives to food crops tend to be better regulated and controlled, crops like cotton tend to be the recipients of extremely high doses of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. A recent article on the New Agriculturists website says:

…globally, 16 per cent of the world’s pesticides are used in growing cotton. Water scarcity is also becoming a more persistent problem. Cotton is a thirsty crop, and it can take around 2,500 litres of water to produce one t-shirt with a weight of 250 grams. Yet in India, more than 40 per cent of the country’s population is projected to be without access to clean drinking water by 2020.

In response to these grave realities, various organizations have been looking for solutions that would reduce the impact of cotton farming on the water table. The article talked about a recent study by Water Footprint Network and CottonConnect, which revealed that cotton farmers are able to reduce their greywater footprint by adopting organic and improved farming practices.

In 2011, data was collected from 480 cotton farmers in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states, half of whom used conventional farming practices and the other half, organic practices. The results revealed that although organic production did impact water resources, through leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous from organic fertilisers, its overall impact was significantly smaller than conventional practices. Using the greywater footprint indicator, the study quantified that, on average, the impact of pollution from conventional practices was 50 times bigger than that from organic practices.

The study also identified ‘critical’ farms with significantly larger than average greywater footprints. “This is valuable information for C&A and CottonConnect because it encourages work with the identified farmers in order to better understand their agricultural practices, and supports the formulation of specific responses aimed at decreasing water pollution impacts in a more efficient and targeted way,” states Erika Zarate, WFN Associate.

CottonConnect, a network-creating organization that aims to promote sustainable cotton farming practices. It works across the cotton supply chain, towards improving the livelihoods of cotton farmers and their families by helping to reduce their production costs, and to build capacity on cultivation practises devoid of child, forced or slave labour. It also

… work[s] towards enhancing the environment focusing on water, biodiversity, pesticides and fertilisers, by reducing water usage and the impact of pesticides and fertilisers, encouraging species biodiversity, especially insects that are natural predators of cotton pests

CottonConnect hope to disseminate the study widely, to make farmers more sensitive to the benefits of organic farming, to reduce inputs and save water. They believe that this will generate awareness among farmers and urge for a shift towards more sustainable agriculture. However, currently the organic practices are not an economically viable alternative, so there is a need to look for cheaper alternatives, which will make organic practices more popular even among those at the bottom of the agricultural pyramid.

This entry was posted in Design!publiC and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *