Cotton on

March 2013

MG007S18 World Bank
Women harvesting cotton. Madagascar. Photo: © Yosef Hadar / World Bank on Flickr
For farmers who have escaped the GM cotton debt trap and yield failures, there are other more pressing concerns than the corruption of wild cotton at its centre of origin in Mexico (see GM COTTON - HERE THERE... NOWHERE), or the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Chinese rivers (see A RECIPE FOR MRSA - March 2013).

The Soil Association highlighted recently that conventional cotton is a 'toxic crop'. In developing countries, cotton is thought to account for 50% of total pesticides use. More toxic chemicals are used to grow cotton than any other crop. Acute poisoning from pesticides is commonplace in cotton production, with up to 77 million cotton workers suffering poisoning every year. “These are the killing fields”.

Despite the 'Bt' insecticidal GM cotton which is supposed to obviate the need to spray, cotton farming uses 16% of all the insecticides sprayed each year, more than any other single crop. Monsanto now controls a staggering 95% of the cotton seed in India.

Cotton is also one of the thirstiest crops we farm, using 11,000 litres of water for a single kilogram of cotton produced. Besides feeding precious water to socks and T-shirts, pesticidal pollution of rivers and drinking water is taking its toll on the health of farming communities and their precious ecosystems.

Using low external inputs that are locally available, organic methods allow farmers to work within their resources and work sustainably. Organic practices keep the soils healthy so they're better at holding water and are more resilient to drought conditions.

The Soil Association has launched a major campaign to raise awareness of the human and environmental consequences of non-organic cotton production. Check out www.cottonedon.org .

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