Reviving organic cotton in Maharashtra, India

Stimulating organic growing techniques in Maharashtra State, India, was the focus at the second Cotton Trailblazers event. Maharashtra was an early adopter of organic cotton, but now trails other states. International delegates looked at how to reverse that trend and strengthen India’s exemplary role as the world’s leading supplier of the ubiquitous fibre.

Building a roadmap for the organic cotton sector in India, with Maharashtra as a hub for the cultivation of the fibre and the apparel industry. That was the focus of more than 150 international delegates, representing government, the apparel industry, academia, civil society and farmer groups, who gathered in Nagpur, Maharashtra for the second annual Cotton Trailblazers event on 5 December 2019. 

Organic cotton farmers receiving gifts of shawls, with from left to right: Anita Chester, head of Sustainable Raw Materials, C&A Foundation; Shatadru Chattopadhayay, managing director, Solidaridad Asia; Siebe Schuur, agricultural counsellor at the India and Sri Lanka Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Punit Lalbhai, executive director, Arvind Limited; Ravindra Thakare, director of Vanamati; and Shreyaskar Chaudhury, managing director, Pratibha Syntex Limited

Looking for solutions

The event, co-hosted by C&A Foundation, Solidaridad Asia and Organic Cotton Accelerator, celebrated India’s leadership in global organic cotton production and put local farmers in the spotlight. It brought together key players to discuss the challenges facing the sector and look for solutions through collaborative efforts that create value for all – from farmers to consumers.

Topics at the event included:

  • how local handloom enterprises can engage directly with local farmers transitioning to organic

  • the role of big brands

  • business models that have scale-up potential 

  • policy enablers to strengthen the sector

  • traceability in the organic supply chain 

  • the importance of sustainability in the fashion industry 

India dominates organic cotton

Anita Chester, head of Sustainable Raw Materials at C&A Foundation, said, “India continues to dominate organic cotton production across the globe, and India’s total organic fibre production is expected to grow over the next few years. This highlights the enormous potential India has in demonstrating organic transformation and working together towards creating a more sustainable fashion industry.”

India has enormous potential to demonstrate organic transformation and working towards a more sustainable fashion industry” – Anita Chester, head of Sustainable Raw Materials, C&A Foundation

Boosting the crop in Maharashtra

Maharashtra was a pioneer in the organic transformation, but only 11% of India’s total organic cotton supply currently comes from the central-western state. A revival would benefit the farmers by reducing cultivation costs in the input phase and reduce the debt they carry, as well as benefit the soil’s natural balance.

“I have observed that the traditional practices which were very common in the past, stopped with the introduction of genetically modified Bt cotton in the 2000s," said Roopraj Wamanro Milmile, a farmer from Yavatmal, 170km southwest of Nagpur. "This led to a switch to chemical farming. With the organic cotton initiative in our state, practices such as making organic compost are emerging again and have proven to be very helpful as they are chemical-free and do not require any extra expenditure on inputs.” 

Complementary water programmes 

C&A Foundation and Solidaridad Asia have already initiated various solutions in Maharasthra that have been catalysts for the adoption of organic practices in the state, to reach 15,000 farmers. The programme is complemented by additional efforts by Solidaridad Asia addressing water stress in the region by promoting micro-irrigation and rainwater management solutions among 30,000 farmers.

Shatadru Chattopadhyay, managing director of Solidaridad Asia, addressing delegates

Realising untapped potential

Shatadru Chattopadhyay, managing director of Solidaridad Asia, said, “Along with our partners, we are creating a more prosperous cotton sector by using sustainable production methods that have contributed to improved water efficiency, worker health and safety, and much-reduced water pollution levels.”

“The transformation has already begun. Civil society organisations are ready to act, and farmers have taken the first steps on the route back to organic farming," concluded Chester. "But the massive untapped sustainable potential is still awaiting realisation, so let’s all embrace the revival of organic cotton in Maharashtra.” 

>Read more about Solidaridad's work in the cotton supply chain worldwide