Benefits of Organic
"If you look at the variables, and you look at the studies that have been done, in general, organic systems are more sustainable than conventional systems.”
Regents Professor of Soil Science, Washington State University, USA
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Cotton grown organically employs the ecological processes of nature to maintain, for the longer term, soil fertility, insects and microbes in balance (thereby reducing pest outbreaks), and encourages species biodiversity. A good understanding of ecosystems and farming techniques is necessary.
Cotton grown organically encourages the planting of food crops, often food staples and those in demand locally, as part of a farm system. Organic produce often has higher levels of dry weight and nutrition.
Cotton grown organically is more resilient to climatic stresses such as drought and floods. Organic crops are also thought to be 'less thirsty' (than crops dependent on NPK fertilisers and/or genetic engineered plants). Yields can be higher than conventional cropping when unfavourable weather situations occur, and input costs significantly less.
Cotton grown organically brings job satisfaction to peoples lives: it is inclusive and 'female-friendly' (pesticide spraying for example is considered men's work due to the hazards of use, and is a lonely occupation but organic is a community affair said to be favoured by women). Organic is labour intensive (at times) which provides employment for rural communities.
Fortunate Hofisi Nyakanda, ZOPPA, Zimbabwe: “We have to stop seeing organic agriculture as an alternative but as mainstream agriculture with huge benefits for mankind. It’s miles and miles away from conventional agriculture in terms of benefits.”
“Organic agriculture” she says “has a great potential to increase productivity and increased yields, decrease susceptibility to drought, pests and flooding, decrease dependence on the use of fossil fuel, raise groundwater levels, increase soil fertility and make the soil more resilient to erosion".
Fortune adds that it is also “important for the rehabilitation of damaged land, increasing incomes, improving livelihood opportunities for women as well as increasing biological diversity and the promotion of production of ecosystem services.
She believes that “Africa must be at the forefront of the organic movement to save its people from low value monotonous foods produced by using unsustainable production methods. Organic farming is an important adaptation and coping strategy for rural farmers in the wake of emerging threats such as climate change.”
Despite having made a variety of achievements, she said, the organic industry still faces numerous challenges such as lack of resources, marginalization and the absence of laws and policies that support its activities.
“I see organic agriculture – long seen as a sign of underdevelopment and backwardness – becoming a critical lever for adapting to climate change and a pillar for good health and a sustainable environment.”
Organic holds the 'gold standard' In the Farm Hub we essentially promote organic cotton production because it is a proven, well-established and independently certified mode of achieving agro-ecologically sound cotton; arguably, the most sustainable cotton in production.
Considering the majority of the world’s cotton growers are ‘small-scale’ ie working on less than 2 ha of land per farmer/farming family. Essential requirements for achieving scale are building knowledge-intensity into farming practices; such as water efficient irrigation, compost building and non-chemical pest control. Interestingly, these skills are becoming more necessary for farmers of large scale as well as those of small. The fundamental difference is the use of (and cost of) labour. This is generally not an issue in poor rural communities where employment is critical for controlling mass migration to urban areas (where conditions may in fact be of a lower quality than their rural villages).
For companies and other organisations with goals and targets concerning ecological and social sustainability ‘organic’ ticks all the boxes and is a quick win for the company as well as a contribution to global agendas such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Move to more sustainable cotton There are a number of initiatives currently in place to support the transition of conventional cotton production towards a more sustainable form of agriculture. Reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, using water more efficiently and moving towards the use of locally available inputs such as green and animal manure are enabling conventional cotton farmers to improve their impact on the environment and farming communities. See Future Cotton for more information.
Defining 'conventional' Most cotton in the world is grown 'conventionally'. As a very general definition, this means it is grown with the assistance of synthetic agrichemicals (including fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, defoliants, etc). It is usually grown as a mono-culture (which means it is the only significant crop grown over large areas of land) although most farmers in developing countries grow some food crops. Increasingly, conventional cotton is grown from genetically modified (GM) seeds. Sometimes GM cotton is singled out from 'conventional' but for our purposes we will say it covers both.
A summary of impacts and benefits of organic is presented below: