Cotton farming is resource intensive. It can take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of cotton - that's enough for just one pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The C&A Foundation-supported Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) is pushing for a more sustainable industry by means of improving the business case for organic cotton farming.
Established in 2014, OCA is focused on building a prosperous organic cotton sector that benefits everyone, from farmer to consumer. It's a big challenge. Currently, certified organic cotton accounts for less than 1 per cent of global cotton supply. Without the right support, farmers have little incentive to switch to organic production. It demands new skills, different materials, as well as time and capital to get started. Yields tend to be lower in the first few years and for cash-strapped farmers that is simply not an option.
But although there are obstacles, the benefits are clear: less dependence on synthetic fertilisers and pesticides means a healthier working environment and healthier soil. That means better conditions for people and local flora and fauna, and better yields in the longer-term. The OCA is creating the right conditions for organic cotton farming to prosper and part of that means promoting transparency throughout the entire supply chain.
Our purpose is to create a shared vision and strategy that brings everyone's actions together. To get us all pulling in the same direction.
Laure Heilbron, OCA's Acting Executive Director, says: “OCA was established to overcome the barriers that are holding organic cotton back. It's about fundamentally transforming the entire system. That starts with building a movement for change across the organic cotton sector. At the moment, individual brands who want to buy organic cotton often work with their own farmers, spinners, factories and other supply chain partners. But a single brand can't transform a whole sector. Our purpose is to create a shared vision and strategy that brings everyone's actions together. To get us all pulling in the same direction."
The cotton supply chain is fragmented and without a single, reliable traceability system in place, brands don't really know whether what they are buying is really organic - even with the best intentions in the world. “We want to strengthen the integrity of organic cotton by building a traceability system," says Laure.
“More streamlined supply chains, better custody systems and clearer reporting frameworks will give brands the confidence to say that organic really means organic. And that means they'll invest more in organic farmers. It's a win-win."
For farmers like 38-year-old Kariappa in Karnataka, India, that means a more secure and prosperous future for him and his family. For the fashion industry as a whole it means the opportunity to truly transform and decrease the impact of cotton farming on the environment. Those are goals worth fighting for.