Organic cotton

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is, in essence, cotton from plants that have not been genetically modified and have also been grown without using any chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers. Such products are certified in order to demonstrate their non-synthetic growth and production. The growth and production of organic cotton is also aimed at aiding and abetting natural biological cycles, as well as general biodiversity. Also, cotton plantations must adhere to certain criteria in order to meet the demands and specifications to be considered organic.

In most instances meeting the requirements to be considered “organic” includes regulating the allowed practices and growing activities such as pest control, handling of actual crops, the growing and fertilising of the crops as well as what measures are in place to protect the crops themselves as they grow. Organic cotton is grown in more than 24 countries worldwide and, as of 2007, the global production of organic cotton was expanding at an incredible rate of 50% a year or more.

One of the primary interests in organic cotton and its overall benefits to the environment lie highly in the limitations organic cotton can offer over common pesticide use. In terms of the globe’s total cultivated land cotton only accounts for roughly 2.5% of this, despite the fact that it also accounts for the usage of around 16% of all global insecticides – a percentage significantly higher than any other major global crop. The growing and cultivating of non-organic cotton also has other environmental side effects and consequences due to the increased usage of chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides in the cultivation process. These include pollution of both the air and surface water though heavy usage and mixture of the chemicals with local water reserves and drainage areas. Also, after cultivation, residual chemicals might cause skin irritation in the eventual consumer and potentially cause life threatening reactions. Due to the impact of this elevated use of chemicals and pesticides to produce non-organic cotton we find less biodiversity as well as a definite change in the balance of the world’s various biological ecosystems, a change that can be seen as far back as the advent of DDT on the pesticide scene.

As a result of the increased usage of pesticides and chemicals over the years it is easy to see that those cotton producers that switch to organic, biologically-based harvesting methods can not only expect to see and offer a much cleaner product to their customers can also be satisfied that they are benefiting the Earth and its ecosystems by refraining from conventional growing means. This has helped by benefiting both ground and surface water, as desisting from using chemicals means that there will be far fewer pollutants and contaminants from drainage after rainfall (which would otherwise have washed the chemicals into ground-stored water and lakes, etc.) There is also a much lower risk of affecting insect ecosystems and provide better natural disease control by contributing to the balance of controlling these vital facets through leaving them to the natural ecosystem itself rather than being manipulated chemically. It also means that, rather than relying on chemicals and pesticides to control pests that would be harmful to the crop, cotton farmers take a longer view with regards to habitat planning that can be greatly benefiting to the planet in the long run, thus also benefitting worldwide biodiversity.

All crops – cotton included – when organically grown produce soils that have a higher content of organic matter as well as a thicker topsoil depth. This results in far lower instances of soil erosion, protecting against natural problems such as mudslides or other natural affects that cause thousands of people each year to lose their lives or livelihoods.

In order for cotton – or any product – to qualify as organic it must meet certain criteria underlined in the Organic Food Production Act which came into effect in 1990. This act spells out the various procedures and regulations that organic cotton producers must adhere to in order to qualify for organic certification. Producers should submit an Organic System Plan, in which they spell out their organic handling and production plans which must subsequently be approved by the certifying agency in the state. In the plan the cotton producer must fully detail each and every process on their plantation and how often each process is carried out as well as include a list of all substances used on their crops. Producers must also detail all of their control procedures, including all physical barriers on and around the cotton plantation to stop contact and contamination with other organic and non-organic crops while preventing any contact with any prohibited substance during the entire production cycle of the cotton crop. Growers should also detail plans designed to support and increase biodiversity.

Many different groups are now pushing the benefits of the expanding use and growth of organic cotton and there are campaigns and institutions that are supporting growers as they look to make the jump to organic cotton farming. A group called The Sustainable Cotton Project, for instance, is aiding cotton farmers in the switch from chemically-produced crops to more organic and biologically friendly farming and production processes. They helped to instigate the Cleaner Cotton Project, under which there is a promise to reduce the levels of chemical use in cotton production by 73%. This plan has subsequently been joined by other organisations. The campaign also looks to educate the general public and farmers in the benefits of organic methods as well as help to support local farmers in the growing and production process, especially those switching from non-organic cotton production.

Organic cotton is being successfully grown and cultivated in a number of countries, most notably Turkey, India and China. As of 2007 Africa saw eight countries involved in organic cotton production, most notably in Egypt, where farmers persuaded the government to convert over 400,000 hectares of land previously used for conventional cotton production to organic, integrated methods. These measures led to a 30% increase in crop yields in Egypt, as well as reducing the use of synthetic pesticides by around 90%.

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