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They call it the world’s ‘dirtiest’ agricultural commodity. Production accounts for 12% of all greenhouse gases. It uses huge amounts of chemicals, ridiculous quantities of water (an estimated 2,700 liters just to make one t-shirt). And, it exposes farmers and their families to great risks related to health and income. We're talking about conventional cotton, of course.
Cotton is a heavily traded raw material. Production uses about 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, and about 100 million farming families, mostly in the world’s poorest countries, are dependent on cotton farming for their livelihood.
The production of conventional cotton has a major social and environmental impact. Not only does it account for a very large proportion of the world's greenhouse gases, water consumption is another huge problem. One tonne of cotton fiber uses 2,120 cubic meters of the already very limited freshwater resources in the production areas. What about chemicals? Conventional cotton production uses $2 billion worth of pesticides each year, accounts for 16% of global insecticide, and around 4% of the world’s nitrogen fertilizers. That is more than any other single crop. This has enormous consequences for the environment, biodiversity and the farmers’ health and living conditions.
Does certified organic cotton solve anything, you might ask?
To begin with, it means all the difference to the farmers. Although the yield from organic cotton compared to genetically modified is slightly lower (14%), income is more stable because organic farming requires greater crop diversity and food crops in the rotation.
0% Pesticides and fertilizers
Organic cotton is grown on fields without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or defoliants. Only natural fertilizers such as compost and animal manure are allowed. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are prohibited in organic products. Good for the environment, good for humans and animals.
91% less water
Worldwide, most organic cotton is grown on rain-fed farms – meaning there is no irrigation. The soil is healthy and holds water 50% better than conventional soil. The water usage in growing organic cotton is 91% lower than that of conventional cotton, saving our valuable freshwater resources.
46% less CO₂ emissions
Growing organic cotton saves 46% CO₂ compared to conventional cotton, which means a substantial reduction in global warming. Organic cotton farming is also significantly less energy intensive.
So, it is probably quite obvious what you can do? When you buy cotton products – choose certified organic. Always.