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Behind the seams: Organic cotton farming in India

Cotton is the world’s most commonly used natural fiber and is in nearly 40 percent of our clothing. Cotton is grown all over the world with India being the second largest cotton grower.

Although cotton has a natural and clean image the truth is that cotton drinks up more of its fair share of water and is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. Nope! Absolutely not as sustainable as it might seem…. Neither does growing cotton bring economical benefits to India’s cotton farmers. Instead the unstable cotton prices and resulting debts the farmers are in, often makes Indian cotton farmers choose suicide over distress, leaving their wifes and children behind with the loans… 

Luckily there are organisations like Chetna Organics, who are working with small and marginal farmers towards improving their livelihood options and making farming a sustainable and profitable occupation. When we visited India we had the honour to meet with the organic cotton farmers in their villages, which are supported by Chetna organics and hear about their stories and achievements.


Our trip to the Organic cotton farmers started with a short morning meeting at the Chetna headquarters in Hyderabad, where we were explained about the history of Chetna organics, after which we soon left for a 4 hour drive to meet the farmers in Andhra Pradesh.

The Chetna Organic & Fair Trade Cotton Intervention Program started in 2004 as a composite pilot on Organic / Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) & Fair-trade supply chain development, in response to the agrarian crisis in India. The intent was to improve livelihood options of smallholder farmers by making their farm systems more sustainable, profitable and creating access to ethical and fair-trade markets in cotton.


Established with the aim of addressing the poverty related distress of small and marginal cotton farmers in the region, Chetna Organic today runs a multi-faceted program that aims to create a 360 degree support intervention around the farmer community so as to empower them to take better action on their own decisions. Chetna Organic works with over 25,000 farmers spread across Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa.

In Andhra Pradesh we met Mr. Ashok who would show us around the area, whilst passionately explaining us everything about organic cotton farming, working with the farmers and making sure that we got enough to eat ;)!


The way Chetna organics works is not by means of charity but by venturing philanthropy so as to empower farmers by engaging them to build an ethical supply chain for cotton. This is supported by the Chetna Organic Farmers Association (COFA), which is a farmer owned not-for-profit association that engages in technical and social extension, capacity building, institution building support to farmers and farmer co-operatives, promotion of CSR investment in farmer communities and policy and advocacy work on rain-fed agriculture and related issues.
Mr. Ashok is one of the people to bring this technical knowlede to the farmers and help them with agricultural developments.
Simultaneously, at an international level, Chetna Organic works closely with organisations like Solidaridad (Netherlands), Made-By (Netherlands and UK), Max Havelaar, Fair Trade Foundation, Fair Trade USA and Shop For Change, and with the support of its donors Solidaridad, ICCO and Rabo Bank and the Ford Foundation towards promoting markets for organic and fair trade cotton garments in the developed countries, develop supply chain partnerships to address such market demand (Spinning mills, CMT Units, dying units etc) and promote organic and fair trade farm systems in India..


We were invited in the Pamulawada village to see their fields and chat with the farmers. They explained us how they could support their entire village from the organic cotton production and asked us what kind of crops we grow where we are from and what the clothes look like, which are made from the organic cotton they grow.


After meeting the people in the Pamulawada village we drove onwards to neighbouring villages where we visited more cotton fields and a school in the area.


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