World Wildlife Fund (WWF): How organic cotton production is vital to healthy biodiversity and value
This year, C&A Foundation celebrates five years of making fashion a force for good by bringing together beneficiaries, allies and changemakers as part of our broader vision to unite the industry and set the stage for a profound industry transformation. Through this story series, we highlight five of our partners that have been with us on this journey, share our ideals and work with courage and conviction every single day to be true and powerful forces for good.
“Our work to promote biodiversity in wildlife corridors through organic cotton cultivation and in turn, improving farmer livelihoods in the region, is unique and a real first for the fashion industry. To be able to link a responsible fashion supply chain to wildlife conservation efforts is game-changing in many ways. It’s given fashion players a new perspective and narrative,” says Murli Dhar, Director of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at WWF India as he tells us about the three-year project in central India being implemented in partnership with the C&A Foundation.
WWF’s efforts around food and agriculture, and particularly around enabling sustainable production systems, centres around reducing the environmental footprint by improving efficiencies in water management and lowering chemical use. One of the ways to do this is driving conversion from chemical-based to non-chemical based systems, and so too in cotton production. Organic cotton production significantly reduces impact on the soil and strengthens the biodiversity in and around.
Underlining the urgency, he says, “Cotton production consumes nearly 60% of global pesticides and is the cause of 8% of global greenhouse emissions worldwide. The transition to non-chemical based systems is an urgent need within the sector.”
Organic cotton to rehabilitate biodiversity
Central India is home to the Bengal tiger, an endangered species. 40% of India’s tiger population lives across five or six national parks in the region, each connected by a wildlife corridor. Murli explains that protecting these corridors is critical as it allows the animals to move freely between national parks and maintain a viable genetic population. Organic cotton production in these corridors plays a vital role in maintaining healthy biodiversity in the region and provides a viable model that ensures value creation for farmers in giving them access to a premium fashion supply chain.
“C&A Foundation changed our perspective and inspired us to look at the role of organic certifications in rehabilitating biodiversity. They helped bring in organic compliances that would ensure the integration of all locally produced cotton into a premium fashion supply chain. And owing to their multi-stakeholder approach, gave farmers access to an international marketplace.”
Three years in and 6000 farmers later, Murli is most proud of the rigor that went into educating these farmers about compliances and certifications – a hugely complex and challenging process.
Taking the farmer along in this journey
“It was important to get a pulse on how the farmer felt about this and more importantly, gauge the response of the supply chain. Our first year was a steep learning curve. We began with 40 farmers and learnt a great deal about compliance requirements, audit processes and data management systems. Seeing early results was a much-needed boost in confidence and today, we see happy farmers who have experienced tremendous value, economic but also tangible transformations such as the revival of their soil.” adds Murli.
Speaking about WWF India’s ambitious plans for the future, Murli shares that they’re now in the process of creating a large, central India initiative that involves bringing other industries beyond cotton into the conversation.”