This organic cotton t-shirt might not be as organic as you think

In the Khargone district of India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh, one of the largest producers of certified organic cotton in the country, farmers have been growing the plant known locally as white gold for generations.

“Cotton gives us life,” said Niyaj Ali, 60, sitting on a charpai, a traditional South Asian woven bed, next to his son, wife, daughter-in-law and several small children. -children in a spacious front room. of fresh concrete floors under a thatched roof. “He takes care of everything – the work in the fields, the children’s school fees, the food on the table.”

In the late 1990s, when cotton grown without chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers was a rare commodity purchased exclusively by high-priced yoga and wellness brands, two Swiss companies created the bioRe Foundation to support the cultivation organic cotton in Madhya Pradesh.

Through India’s contract farming system, which allows cotton suppliers to register up to 500 farmers as a single legal entity, bioRe has begun sourcing and selling government-regulated organic cotton. India Export Development Authority for Agricultural and Processed Food Products.

Four years ago, bioRe employees came to Chandanpuri, Mr. Ali’s village, with a pitch: if cotton farmers converted their fields to organic, bioRe would provide training and seeds, teach them how to make organic fertilizers from animal waste. and a biological insecticide made from native herbs, and pay them a premium over the market price of conventional cotton. BioRe also promised to buy any volume they manage to increase.

Mr. Ali and nine other farmers agreed. From his point of view, genetically modified seeds were expensive and dried out the soil. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers were poisonous and unhealthy. He would gladly return to natural methods, like those of his grandfather, especially if organic cotton was more profitable. Three years ago, Mr. Ali began the painstaking process of converting his 11-acre farm from conventional cotton farming to organic farming.

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