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Monday, 6 September 2010

Organic Fortnight - Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton

There are many socio-economic as well as environmental consequences to the production of non organic cotton.

Hazardous Pesticides:
Conventionally grown cotton is a pesticide intensive crop, including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.

Only 2.5% of world wide agricultural land is used to grow cotton; however 10% of all pesticides and 22% of all insecticides are used in cotton farming.

The use of pesticides has far reaching impact to an area’s eco system; polluting rivers and ground water as well as releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and depleting soil fertility.

Water Resources:
Intensive cotton cultivation also uses vast amounts of water for irrigation. It takes an average of 2000 litres of water to make one ordinary t-shirt and a shocking 6800 litres to produce one pair of jeans!

Health Risks:
Besides the devastating consequences for the environment that mass use of pesticides produces, there are also grave consequences for the farmers who come into contact with them on a daily basis.

It is the farmers in the developing world that are most at risk. They often lack the necessary safety equipment which puts their health at risk. Between 25 million and 75 million agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning every year.

Economic Vulnerability:
As traditional cotton farming is a mono-culture, farmers are solely dependent on their cotton crop yield. Soil degradation due to pesticides use causes declining crop yields affecting the farmer's livelihood.

The continuous use of pesticides means that year on year more is needed to produce the same effect. As pesticides account for approximately 50% of framers costs, they can often find themselves in dept to the pesticide manufactures.

This when combined with artificial fluctuations in world market cotton prices, reduces small farmers profits even further making them one of the most vulnerable groups in the developing world.

Child Labour:
In the region of 250 million children worldwide are compelled to work, over 70% in the agricultural sector, which includes cotton production. As childrens bodies are still developing they are all the more vulnerable to the health risks assosciated with pesticide use.

In the next post we will view the issue in a positive light, exploring the benefits of organic cotton...

Sources: Soil Association, Pesticide Action network UK, Organic Exchange, Sustainable Fashion & Textiles by Kate Fetcher

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