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Things you didn't know about Fairtrade cotton

Tuesday 11-10-2016 - 17:45

Sarah Gibbons, University of Sussex SU Society and Citizenship Officer and NUS Advisory Group for Sustainability member, is in India this week, meeting the people and communities who benefit from NUS' Fairtrade clothing company Epona. Today, the group saw the benefit that ethical supply chains have for organic cotton farmers.

Today we visited two family-owned farms that produce cotton for our Epona t-shirts and hoodies.

Both farms comprised a mix of small fields surrounding a small family home, each equipped with its own wonderful family. At the first farm we were given a tour of some of their nine acres of fields. Although mostly cotton, there were other crops growing too, including sweetcorn, millet and peanuts.

We learnt that the cotton plants take 7-8 months from seed to harvest, and that they get 800kg of cotton per acre. 1 kilo of cotton of makes 1 t-shirt, so this little farm could be producing enough cotton for about 7,200 Epona t-shirts each year.

They explained how they only grow organically, despite the fact that organic cotton takes double the time to ripen. They said they know other farmers who have had burns from pesticides, and that they don’t want or need pesticides on their farm. Organic cotton also attracts a better price, and demand is good as it is sought after for baby clothes. Being organic means no pesticides or artificial fertilisers, so we were shown how they use animal manures to enrich the soil, and how they rotate crops of beans and peanuts, which help fix nitrogen into the soil.

There was certainly plenty of wildlife on show, which is another benefit of organic farming. We saw hundreds of dragonflies, butterflies, birds galore, including a few wild peacocks!

Next we visited a second family farm, just up the road, which was the site of a meeting of the Rapar and Dhrangadhra Farmers Producer Company (RDFC). Pretty much all the farmers in this area are part of this co-operative. We had an opportunity to ask the farmers about the benefits Fairtrade, and they explained how it has brought them together into a collective, which gets them a much better price for their cotton. With the support of Fairtrade, they have developed their own cotton seed business, which means the farmers can buy seed at one twentieth of the price that they used to. And then there is the good old Fairtrade premium, which has given them grants for a shared water bore hole, fruit trees and trees for shade for their animals.

Although all seemed great at the two farms we visited, we were left wondering why less than 1 per cent of cotton grown in India is Fairtrade. We asked, and were told that it is because they can’t get enough international buyers who want to pay the extra for Fairtrade. Which is where you all come in…

Did you know that less than half of the cotton clothing sold in students’ unions is currently Fairtrade? If we, as a movement, all used Epona, then we could be supporting another 125 farmers' families, helping to improve their lives, and the prospects for their children.

Thanks you for your support for Epona, and for choosing Fairtrade – its pence extra to us, but a world of difference to the growers and their communities.

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