Sustainable cotton needs investment for more credibility
The organic cotton industry needs significant investment in infrastructure and seed, anothe creation of a neutral body to ensure the distribution of more credible data, accordingto industry experts.
Speaking to Andrew Olah, founder of the kingpins denim trade show, on a two-day digital webinar of interviews and panel sessions calledKingpins24, independent acivist veronica bates kassatly, said there is "very ite data' on organic cotton in the industry, despite the number oimethods and systems developed over the last decade.
i find people making al sorts of caims for which there is not an iota of data. was looking at C8A's (Laudes Foundationl annual reportublished in 2018 and it said their Madhva Pradesh study showed oroanic cotton consumed 9% less water. The Madhya Pradeshl study does
not show that. Why they put this figure in I do not know but it's just not true."I do write to companies to tel them but nobody is interested. Most of them don't reply when sent the articles for rights of reply. Nobody hasanswered my questions.
Cotton consutant Crispin Argento says there needs to be a neutral body established to monitor the data that is "not encumbered by thefinancial influence or special interest to move the sector along."There is always infuence or special interest, whether that's a private standard, a voluntary standard and/or a goverment standard like organicis. There are some standards that are willing to more easily admit that it is a continuous progress journey, if you will."
Mass Balance system
He says the Mass Balance system, adopted by the Better Cotion lnitiative (BC), is "the only solution" right now, given how cotton is tradedThe Mass Balance chain of custody model uses 'Beter Coton Claim Units (BCCUs) as a designated unit to track the volumes of physicalcotton or cotton-containing products associated with a Better Coton claim, One BCCU represents 1kg of physical Belter Cotton lint procuredfrom a gin processing Better Coton by a merchant or a spinning mil, as a result of an order for Better Cotton products. lt encourages supplychain actors to buy and use more Better Coton, as it does not require complexities that result in costy physical segregation along the supplchain.
How do you get organic from a far and keep its lD preserved right up to the T-shirt? it's really hard to do unless you have a closed system oa vertical supplier that is wiling to have real traceability in place --and that is not something that exists yet in the sector" Arqento explains. "fyou ask any merchant how they trade bales of cotton, it's paper, and it's really dificult. without adding too huge a cost and infrastructureshortfalls, to have certifed fibre. Most organic is mass balanced at this point but we are unwiling as sector to admit that, or we just don'tunderstand the fundamentals of the trade enough."
Argento says there is a lack of investment in the industry to be able to deliver credible and impact dataIf you look at the aggregation of all the different standards and initatives, it's less than EUR50m (USS56m) a vear, which is substantial,. butwhen you take that EUR50m and you look at the number of farmers that are needed to invest in, where there is intervention, when there isinfrastructure needed, and you look at the fact that an individual famer is receiving EUR10-15 (each). That is not enough for training, forrapacity buildino. and let alone for that farmer to have a business case to actually commit to sustainability over timeWe need to develop a system that not only invests in farmers and proves that there is a strong business case for sustainability, and not just fora reduction in costs and inputs, but actually a premium that comes on top of that to incentivise that farmer more."
Argento says there is also a need for "huge" infrastructure and seed, particularly in organic.The seed that is being used, predominantly, is North America Upland. in around 85% or 90% of al the sowing felds across the world. It doesnthave the genetic diversily that would enable a farmer in weste Afica andlor in lndia to, that is acclimatised for those particular regions.Arqento also points to "poor infrastructure" across the industry, and the need for "massive, massive investment at scale that cannot comeentirely from philanthropy", particular in regions like Africa, India and Pakistan.
We need to figure out ways in which you can get lower input agriculure to produce the yields that are common or expected in the developedword. There needs to be more direct relationships between the famer and the supply chain so there is additona value that goes to the farmer'f you look at the two organic systems that exist in the Us, for example, they're receiving a premium price for their fbre that's 50-100% at timesabove what the trade for cotton is so they have a little bit of a solution there. How are they achieving those costs for their fibre? Those guyshave figured it out. t's not easy for them, by any means, but it's just a diferent approach to the market that is finding real commercial value increating the business case for sustainable cotton."
There is also a need,Argento says, to bring the farmers to the table to really understand what they need, what they want and how they want tooperate as business people and contribute to a beter world, socially and environmental, and "not impose these systems on them that can'tactually be applied in the real world"
I invite brands and retailers, and their suppliers, to come down to the farm and realy nominate at the famer level and engage and understandWhat each individual farmer needs and then invest in those systems that will ead to better data, belter outcomes, and move the sector forwardand not just assume that a piece of paper is delivering on real impact because we know it's not.'