From the Green Revolution to organic farming. In the heart of India, cotton growers have led the way in rejecting harmful chemicals and GM-seeds, working with nature, rather than against it.
Unable to cater for his family, Hariya, a cotton farmer from a village in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, decided to move to a city to look for another job. It was March 2008. Faced with poverty and a lack of opportunities to make a living from growing cotton, he quit farming, left his family and the little land he had cared for.
Hariya’s story is not unique. Between 2005-2009, a total of 140 million people in India left agriculture whilst Census 2011 shows that 2300 people were quitting farming every day and migrating to cities to take up menial jobs. The Green Revolution which was once omnipresent in rural India has come to embody the opposite of what people all over the world know as “green”, environmentally friendly and good for people.
Pale shade of green
Starting in 1965, India’s Green Revolutionaimed to transform the country’s farming regions into “veritable breadbaskets”, increasing significantly the country’s output of wheat and rice in particular. However, the modern agricultural methods it introduced — the extensive use of modified seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides — brought about unanticipated harmful consequences. The “green” way began to play havoc on the soil, water, animals, and human beings, creating a vicious cycle for small scale farmers who became reliant on buying pricey seeds and chemicals in order to stay in business.
To address these challenges and support farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Pratibha Syntex, one of the world’s largest textiles manufacturers, in association withFairtrade, initiated a new way: an organic revolution. They helped to set up Vasudha— a Fairtrade and organic-certified farmers cooperative. Today, Vasudha works with about 1500 cotton farmers, whilst Pratibha is associated with around 33500 organic-certified farmers across four states.
Avinash Karmarkar, VP Vasudha explains: “In the last 50 years, agriculture has led to unpredictable weather patterns, poor soil fertility and low water levels, whilst increasing pest attacks and the costs of cultivation. It has created health risks for animals and human populations. The only way to combat these challenges is to look at agriculture in a holistic way, rather than focusing on production only.”
In the aftermath of the Green Revolution a debate about the future of farming opened up a new world of possibilities across the country. Today, farmers are turning their backs on chemical farming methods and are moving towards organic. They are well aware of the adverse effects of deforestation, excessive application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and improper waste recycling.
Organic is a process
Initially, the farmers at Vasudha were a bit apprehensive of adopting organic farming, not knowing whether or not it would guarantee sufficient yield. However, having seen the positive impacts on other farms, many decided to switch to organic.
Madhusudan Patidar, a farmer from Mandouri, says: “In the first few years, I thought that organic farming had not been giving yield equal to conventional farming, but gradually the cost of cultivation substantially decreased and the yield increased. The positive impact on soil life was unquestionable.”
To reduce cultivation costs, Vasudha Organic Solution Centre (known as VOSC) was established and together with Pratibha built three centers to produce and package low cost organic inputs, sold to farmers for a standard price. The centers have created new jobs and instilled entrepreneurship in farmers, and most importantly, have reduced their dependence on expensive market inputs – a key step for the farming community to become self-sufficient.
Vasudha has also introduced two organic agricultural inputs: Sudarshan and Bheem, now used by around 3000 farmers.
“We are proud to cultivate cotton sustainably. Sudarshan, which is a bio pesticide produced from leaf extracts, has reduced my cultivation cost by 40%. Bheem is a tonic prepared from soyabean, banana and drumstick extracts, which ensures growth of the plant,” explains Kailash Patidar, a farmer from Bhudari.
With the help of Fairtrade, the centers will soon start to produce their own non-GM quality cotton hybrid seed. Vasudha has initiated this process on two acres of land this year and is planning to scale it up to 10 acres in next three years thereby ensuring non-GM seeds for all its Fairtrade farmers. Women have also been involved in the programme.
Karmarkar sums it up: “With great courage and determination, we are on the way to achieve our vision for better farming. We have raised the bar for sustainable agriculture, and won’t stop there. Abiding by the Fairtrade Standards, we have many exciting plans. Vasudha has recently established a nursery of 75000 horticulture plants to grow around farms, to create a better micro environment. They shall also provide an extra income for farmers who can sell fruits on local markets in years to come.
“After all, Vasudha in Hindi means the producer of wealth for the Earth.”
*This story first appeared on Fair Trade
The latest research trends focus on new fibres like Nettle
Pratibha Syntex, a leading name in the Indian organic cotton industry, is renowned for sustainable textile products. Its clientele covers leading global brands. The company hopes to grow internationally in a short span of time. In an interview with Fibre2Fashion.com, Mukesh Matta, VP-Business Development and Sustainable Initiatives of Pratibha Syntex talks about the company’s expansion plans.
VP-Business Development & Sustainable Initiatives
What is the size of the organic farming industry in India? How much of this is held by Pratibha Syntex?
In India, organic cotton is produced over 101 million hectare. Average annual production is recorded at 222 million bales. Pratibha Syntex is engaged with around 16,000 farmers and uses around 5,000 MT of organic cotton lint per annum.
What is Pratibha’s USP?
Pratibha’s USP is responsible and responsive fashion, from farm to fabric. Pratibha considers sustainability one of its core values. Our focus is on-time delivery and we continuously work towards reducing lead times.
What sustainable solutions are followed in the Indian textile manufacturing industry? Which, according to you, are the areas of improvement?
Sustainable solutions in the Indian textile manufacturing industry are mostly material-driven. Some examples are: 1. Organic cotton, BCI and fair trade as sustainable cotton fibre 2. rPET (Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate) as manmade synthetic fibre 3. Lyocells as regenerated cellulose fibres like Tencel, Excel etc The focus should now shift to processes and practices for the next area of improvement.
How can wastage be minimised in the textile and garment manufacturing processes? What role does Pratibha play here?
The approach to reducing wastage is multi-pronged at Pratibha. We take steps like: 1. Reducing waste through shorter process cycles with low impact chemicals 2. Maximising reuse of waste during the intermediate process 3. Maximising dyeing on low-salt and salt-free methods to reduce final sludge 4. Working on the best marker efficiency by incorporating this as an integral role of the design team.
What has been the growth percentage at Pratibha Syntex over the last five years?
We have managed to sustain growth despite a challenging market. The average turnover in the last five years was around Rs 825 crore. With increasing demand of value-added products, we have introduced a range of new products. These have impacted our business positively.
Please share details of your last two fiscals and your expectations from the coming two.
We posted a turnover of Rs 828 crore and Rs 819 crore in fiscal 2014-15 and 2013-14 respectively. We are expecting a turnover of Rs 1,500 crore by 2020.
What are your latest research findings?
The latest research trends focus on new fibres like nettle, considered one of the most sustainable fibres. It consumes negligible water and grows on arid land. It is one of the best ecologically suited natural fibres and can change the future of the clothing industry. In time, I will be able to reveal more about this project.
Can you imagine what it’s like not to have clean drinking water because it’s been used or polluted? Whether we like it or not, producing our clothes contributes to this. Right now, this is the reality for communities in water stressed regions of fashion producing countries such as China, India and Bangladesh. When we think of the ethical footprint of fashion, labour exploitation and poor working conditions typically come to mind. This human cost of water from fashion is as urgent an ethical, as well as environmental dilemma.
The reality is that to produce clothes we use and pollute significant amounts of water. This impacts both people and the planet. Cotton growing, as well as dyeing and finishing processes are particularly water intensive. For example, about two million Olympic sized swimming pools of water are used each year to dye our clothes! The water footprint embedded in a pair of jeans can be as high as 10,000 litres! Also, the apparel supply chain cuts through many countries where water is already scarce. These include the top 10 cotton producing countries in the world such as China, India, USA, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Australia and Turkey. It is ironic that China and India produce most of the world’s garments, yet have some of its most water stressed regions!
Given that the same amount of water is on the planet now as when it was formed, why are water constraints increasing and what has changed? The answer is rooted in our increased use and pollution of water – not just from fashion, but other human activities. Increased population and urbanization are key features in the growth in global demand for water for drinking, sanitation, food, and energy. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 four billion people are expected to live in water stressed areas and global freshwater demand will exceed supply by over 40 percent if this “business as usual” continues. With the apparel market expected to grow 3-5% in the same time, demand for water will exceed supply. It’s clear that water efficiency measures alone – the mainstream fashion industry focus at present – will not solve the problem. The bottom line is that the human, environmental and business case for solving these water challenges is critical.
So how can we responsibly manage water and what does success look like? The UN Sustainable Development Goals out this month see success as a world where available and sustainably managed water is a human right for all. Solutions to get there include legislation, market and financial incentives that drive long term responsible water management. Price can be a major incentive if it reflects the true costs and benefits of water, but this is rarely the case. For example, if the cost of water and energy was accurately factored in cotton, it would cost around $US7.50 per tonne as compared to its current $US1.50 per tonne! If this was the case, sustainably produced cotton would be cheaper than conventional cotton. Other parts of the solution include infrastructure and technology that can leapfrog improvements and collaborations to scale action quickly.
The good news for fashion is that potential solutions from brands, suppliers, governments and NGOs have begun to emerge. On the government front, China’s 2015 “Water Ten Plan” is the country’s most stringent water policy to date. Under this, textiles are among the industries being hit hardest to clean up its act. According to Debra Tan, Director of China Water Risk, “Fashion is not only dirty, it is thirsty and since China has declared ‘war on pollution’ to protect its limited water resources, fashion faces unprecedented pressures.”
From brands and suppliers some innovative low water and even “zero water” fashion solutions have emerged. For example, DyeCoo’s zero water and process chemical free dye technology is being used by Nike in their (ColorDry) and in Peak Performance Dyedron jackets. For jeans, Levi Strauss & Co’s Water-Less™ technology and production improvements have saved one billion litres of water since 2011. They have reduced the water used to produce a pair of Levi’s® 501® jeans to about 3800 litres. Indian textile manufacturer Pratibha Syntex uses organic farming techniques and applies best available water efficient dyeing techniques to fabric manufacturing. With an eye on the future, they are pioneers developing highly water-efficient fabrics that are not cotton dependent.
So could “low or zero water” fashion be the next trend? What would it look like to use no water to make a garment, or better still, provide a net surplus to the local community where it is produced? We are already seeing “zero” replacing “reduction” for fashion’s chemical and pollution impacts though initiatives such as the Roadmap to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals. This trend is also seen in other sectors where there is a shift away from a “doing less bad” approach to impact reduction to “enhancing” the communities and environment a business interacts with. I look forward to fashion that always gives us style while respecting every human’s right to clean and sustainably managed water.
Dorothy Maxwell PhD is Director of The Sustainable Business Group , authors of the State of the Apparel Sector Water report for the recent Global Leadership Award in Sustainable Apparel 2015 (GLASA) at World Water Week 2015.
**This story first appeared on Huffington Post.
Bay Area-based nonprofit Fair Trade USA works across a wide range of industries to ensure ethical production of consumer products. The group’s Fair Trade Apparel program, which was established in 2012, grew an astonishing 358% in 2014.
With recent the garment factory tragedies around the world, Fair Trade USA is offering actual solutions for many brands to help address supply chain issues. The group gives garment industry workers a voice, and ensures the safety of laborers and artisans around the world. The company just certified the first Fair Trade factory in the U.S., which is located in Los Angeles.
We recently spoke with Director of Apparel at Fair Trade USA, Maya Spaull, to learn about Fair Trade certification, international factory safety standards, ethically-sources brands and more.
What does Fair Trade USA do?
Essentially what we do is … we are connectors. We work with producers of over 30 product categories — coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, clothing , home goods, soccer balls, footwear. We basically work with the producers around the world that are making the things that, you know, we consume, and certify that they’re making them in a more responsible and safe way. And then we connect those producers to buyers and companies here to ensure that the products are Fair Trade certified and create benefit to give back to those producers.
So, you know, we’re nonprofit. We don’t buy or sell anything. We basically certify a product and then create a consumer movement. Because we believe the consumers are increasingly conscious about what they’re purchasing, and they want to spend their dollars on things that are beautiful and well-made, but also that are fair and just and really are promoting a better livelihood for everyone who is participating in the creation of those products.
How is Fair Trade Certification different for the fashion and apparel industry?
About five years ago, we started looking at expansion of Fair Trade products, and we were getting a lot of requests for clothing — for products made with Fair Trade cotton, and then more importantly, I think there is a real hunger for some kind of assurance that people are safe in the work place. Particularly with the legacy of sweat shops that we saw come up in the 90’s, you know, the whole Nike campaign. And then these issues kept emerging — Rana Plaza, the fire that just happened in Manila last week in the Philippines …
So, basically we were getting a lot of consumer demand. So basically we went out and we developed the world’s first Fair Trade certified factory program. What that really means tangibly is that a producer of rugs, or of sweaters, or of knits can comply with this audit anywhere in the world. It’s extremely rigorous. It’s 334 compliance points. So what that means is we’re looking at everything; we’re looking at working conditions, gender equality, working hours, fire exits, safety in the workplace, protective equipment with sewing machines of if there’s any type of finishing’s or sprays.
It’s extremely thorough because when we put our label on something we’re guaranteeing that this is a safe, positive, great place to work.
You make it sound so easy. I’m wondering why other brands aren’t doing more to ensure these tragedies, like what happened in Manila, stop occurring.
I think in the category of fashion, there’s an extreme amount of pressure on suppliers. To create products quickly, cheaply, and there’s a lot of outsourcing that happens. So, a brand may say, ‘Okay, I need a million units of these pants.’ And the factory, who doesn’t want to lose the business, will say ‘Okay, yeah, we’ll deliver that. But then rather than sourcing it from the factory that they just promised that they’re manufacturing in, they’ll go to a couple guys down the street who can make the pants too, in order to deliver on the order. But maybe the brands aren’t aware of those factories — or in those factories there could be undocumented workers, bad pay and unsafe conditions.
There’s a lot of outsourcing and I think a lot of it is the pressures of the marketplace.
And then I think, sadly, there’s a lot of brands that don’t have the transparency or don’t really care. And there’s a lot of consumers that don’t really care or don’t know to care because they don’t have an awareness of these issues.
What are some Fair Trade certified apparel and accessories brands that people can shop?
You can see a full list of brands that now offer Fair Trade Certified apparel here.
**This article first appeared on Fashion Times here.