A milestone for organic cotton

By Anita Chester

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With all the negativity in the media, it can be easy to miss the good news. It can be easy to miss that we are right in the middle of unstoppable movement towards sustainability. And it can be easy to miss the milestones.  This month, Pakistan hit one of those important milestones producing its first bale of certified organic cotton.

Pakistan is the fifth largest producer of cotton in the world and the third largest exporter of raw cotton. Cotton and cotton products contribute about 10% to the countries GDP.  While the country has done some pioneering work in the production of more sustainable cotton – including an impressive amount of Better Cotton (BCI) - for the most part cotton is grown using conventional farming practices involving the use of chemical inputs and GMO seeds. 

But now, thanks to the tireless efforts of WWF Pakistan and the Agriculture Extension Department of Balochistan, the first few bales of organic cotton are rolling out of Pakistan’s gins. And while the road has been bumpy, this is a major milestone for the country, for its farmers and for the textile industry.

The organic cotton journey in Pakistan

C&A Foundation is working make fashion a force for good and one of our major focuses is the production of sustainable raw materials, with a special emphasis on organic cotton.  

In the year 2000, Kings Apparel Industries set up an organic cotton a project in Baluchistan, but sadly it did not continue for very long. Some other efforts have been made with some small success.

Recognising the potential, in 2015 C&A Foundation invited WWF Pakistan to take on the challenge to grow organic cotton at scale.  With funding support from C&A Foundation, WWF Pakistan entered into a partnership with the Agriculture Extension Department of Baluchistan to implement the country’s first organic cotton programme at this scale.  

Over the next four years they enrolled around 4000 farmers and began a rigorous training and certification process. There were many challenges along the way, most notably a lack of good-quality non-GM seed.  Extension teams on the ground also had the arduous task of travelling to remote areas of the country to train farmers.

But thanks to the perseverance of the organisations involved, and the hard work of the extension workers and farmers, we are now starting to see success.  A success that not only brings benefits to farmers and farming communities, but that has benefits for the environment, the economy, and the entire sector.

In the words of Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General of WWF Pakistan: “Together we have made a major breakthrough in the cotton sector of Pakistan that will benefit each stakeholder and the overall economy of Pakistan.” 

Now it is up to brands and supply chain actors to encourage the farmers by committing to buy their cotton. This will cement the business case for farmers and give impetus to the much-needed scale in the production of organic cotton. 

While there is still much work to be done - like provide good quality seed and create infrastructure for testing and certification - the ball is in motion and will only gather momentum.