Organic cotton has enviable growth potential but trends suggest a supply crunch in the years to come, warns Time for Action: Key Issues and Actions Facing the Cotton Sector in India — a report outlining the agreements arrived at the inaugural Organic Cotton Roundtable held in March this year.
The Roundtable, which convened over 170 industry players, was organized by CottonConnect and curated and funded by the C&A Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dutch fashion retailer C&A.
“The organic cotton sector faces a global shortfall of up to 50 percent by 2015. It is time for action to prevent a gap developing between demand and supply, which could be as big as the current world production,” said Alison Ward, CEO of CottonConnect. “The Time for Action report outlines the key areas where the Indian cotton sector has recognised the need to work together on joint action plans. We hope the clear commitment from industry leaders will forge a strong future for organic cotton.”
The key elements of the Action plan are:
- Set up an Organic & Fair Cotton Secretariat — which will foster the development of responsible organic cotton supply chains, create a credible Indian organic brand and enhance livelihoods for smallholder organic cotton farmers. The Secretariat will focus on policy and advocacy; identifying and leveraging resources; and providing support services — covering social, technical, legal, research and impact aspects of cotton production — to accelerate the growth of the organic cotton sector.
- Focus on seed supply — through a dedicated resource to be in place by June 2014. This will include forecasting the demand for seed; identifying supply partners; identifying varieties by geographical diversity and distributing accordingly; linking supply partners; and identifying the farmers/land for seed production, storage and distribution.
- Support seed research and development — Identification and selection of region-specific cultivars that are organic, more responsive and better quality; acquisition and multiplication of hybrids leading to adoption of breeding standards for short- and long-term process.
- Share best agricultural practices — CottonConnect will compile best practices for organic farming, develop communication tools and conduct capacity-building of workers to train farmers.
- Improve efficiencies in organic supply chains — Develop practical and replicable supply chain models; develop economics of scales, including identifying areas to work and market; and develop committed supply chains by identifying partners.
- Improve integrity and use of certification — “The integrity of organic cotton is vital in promoting and growing the sector,” the report says. Action will be taken to improve integrity at the farm level through training of trainers and an in-depth analysis to identify weaknesses in the certification process.
- Improve transparency and traceability — A feasibility study will be conducted to create a database of all certified organic cotton contributors in order to improve the current supply chain, which is uncoordinated and non-transparent. “Supply chain contributors need to coordinate better and provide trustworthy data,” reads the report.
C&A Foundation executive director Leslie Johnston said: "The challenges in growing the organic cotton sector are immense, and no single entity can solve them alone. Initiatives such as the Organic Cotton Roundtable offer the opportunity to join like-minded partners who commit to helping India to realize its potential in sustainable fibre production. At C&A Foundation, we are inspired by the outcome of this first convening and look forward to supporting the follow-up actions that ultimately will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.”
Many international retailers are fueling the need for organic cotton: H&M has set itself a target to use cotton only from more sustainable sources by 2020, while IKEA now uses 72 percent organic cotton in its products. Companies are also beginning to look at all aspects of cotton production, with H&M, IKEA, M&S and adidas making attempts to source slave-free cotton. As retailers are increasingly growing environmentally and socially conscious, it is critical that the Indian organic cotton industry steps up to meet demand.