Organic Cotton Acreage Down 99% in California

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The US produces about 1% of the world’s organic cotton with most of the production in low-wage countries such as India and Turkey. In the early 1990s, there was tremendous interest in organic cotton-growing in California and many acres were planted. However, high costs for labor-intensive tasks, especially weeding, resulted in clothing companies turning to the foreign producers.

“Organic cotton production reached its height in the late 1990’s in California’s Central Valley with as much as 20,000 acres being grown. Hundreds of textile companies began using organic cotton in their products. (Hanna Anderson, American Apparel, Norm Thompson, Nike, Patagonia, Mountain Equipment Coop, IKEA, Eddie Bauer, to name a few).

Patagonia and Mountain Equipment Coop fully converted their cotton products to 100% organic. However, by 2000, it soon became apparent that organic cotton produced overseas could be grown at about half the price and so the market for domestic organic all but disappeared, with only about 100 acres of organic cotton being grown in California in 2004, 2005 and 2006.”

Authors: Gibbs, M.
Affiliation: Sustainable Cotton Project of Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
Title: Creating Market Demand For Biologically Based Growing Systems in Cotton.
Source: 2007 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. New Orleans, Louisiana. January 9-12, 2007.

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Organic Cotton Profits on Women’s Back Breaking Work

Women Handweeding Cotton

Women Handweeding Cotton

Organic cotton is highly profitable. However, growing cotton without  herbicides for controlling weeds means that more labor is needed in back breaking hand weeding. A recent analysis of organic cotton production reports that the bulk of this labor falls on women’s backs.

“The aim of this article is to describe the economic performance and perceived social and environmental impacts of organic cotton in southern Kyrgyzstan… Due to lower input costs as well as organic and fair trade price premiums, the average gross margin from organic cotton was 27% higher… The major disadvantage of organic farming is the high manual labor input required. In the study area, where manual farm work is mainly women’s work and male labor migration is widespread, women are most affected by this negative aspect of organic farming.

The vast majority of female respondents from organic farms (farm managers or wives) perceived higher workloads. It was generally agreed that organic farming requires more manual work, is more labor intensive, and that women in particular must bear the negative effects because (a) manual work is typically done by women, and (b) the work-related outmigration of men has left more work to women in general. Indeed, the biggest negative impact perceived by respondents in regards to organic farming—an increased workload—appeared to affect women the most.”

Author: Bachmann, F.
Affiliation: Centre for Development and Environment CDE, University of Bern, Switzerland.
Title: Potential and limitations of organic and fair trade cotton for improving livelihoods of smallholders: evidence from Central Asia.
Source: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 2011. 27(2):138-147.