Cotton: Yesterday And Today

The origins of cotton production and use go back to ancient times, with the first evidence of cotton found in India and Pakistan around 6,000 B.C. Later, cotton production spread to Mesopotamia, Egypt and Nubia.

It was in the 1st century when Arab traders brought their cotton products to Italy and Spain, that the fiber was introduced into Europe. By the end of the 16th century, cotton was the primary export of India to Europe.

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 The Industrial Revolution brought about the invention of the spinning machine (1738) and the cotton gin (1793), providing a great boost to cotton manufacturing. Manchester, England acquired the nickname "Cottonopolis" due to the cotton industry's omnipresence within the city.

Till the middle of the 19th century, India was the main provider of cotton fiber for Europe’s cotton industries. By then though, cotton had become the backbone of the southern North American economy and India's importance diminished.

Unfortunately, cotton is not the easiest crop to grow in mass, being susceptible to too much water, not enough water, soil depletion and pesky insects.

Approximately 105 million bales of cotton are grown annually on approximately 2.6% of global arable land in 61 countries. One bale of cotton weighs 218.2 kilograms or 480 lbs. and produces about 200 full size bed sheets.

Conventional cotton will yield approximately 1.5 to 3+ bales per acre and uses over $3.0 billion worth of pesticides, including about 10% of the world's pesticides and nearly 20% of the world's insecticides.

Cotton is a notoriously thirsty crop. Just 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of cotton takes as much as 10,000-20,000 liters of water to produce, or about 2000 gallons per US pound; that's about a 1/2 of a sheet set.

Nearly 1,000 people die every day world-wide from acute pesticide poisoning and many more suffer from chronic ill health.

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Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also found that pesticides unintentionally kill at least 67 million birds annually in the U.S. Countless insects, fish and wildlife are equally affected.

Pesticide residue has been increasingly discovered in foods and in breast milk.

Lastly, conventional cotton farming in developing countries is of marginal profitability for many small farmers, some earning as little as two dollars a day. The average life expectancy is 35 old. If they do not die from chemical poisoning, debt can drive them to suicide.

Today, organic cotton makes up about 1% of the total global cotton production, with India growing and supplying about 60% to the world.

Growing organic cotton, or any organic product for that matter, protects the health and lives of people, insects, animals and the environment, by reducing overall exposure to toxic chemicals from synthetic pesticides that can end up in the ground, air, water and food supply.

Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, defoliants, growth regulators desiccants, defoliants, and fungicides.

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Growing cotton organically uses significantly less amounts of water, up to 91% less water than conventionally grown cotton; and many organic farms only relying on rain water.

Yields for organically grown cotton range from 1.0 to 2.5+ bales per acre, only slightly less than it conventional counterpart.

Many farmer producer cooperatives around the globe receive the support of Fairtrade International. If the strict standards are followed, farmers have the means to obtain credit for materials and equipment, are 
guaranteed above fair market value pricing, and many more community benefits.

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) Certification guarantees organic cotton is grown without the use of chemical based fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. GOTS further guarantees only organic based chemicals are used during the manufacturing process for the preparation, dyeing and finishing of the textiles. 

Fairtrade Certification guarantees better working conditions and better terms of trade for nearly 2 million farmers and workers worldwide. Fairtrade supplies the proactive tools, training and practices for farmers and the community to run smart, successful and sustainable businesses, as well as championing women’s rights.

This is why certifications matter.

And the next time you see a farmers, be sure to thank them!