Monday 30 December 2013


Nukleus CEO CW Tan recently viewed the multi award winning documentary Cotton for my shroud
Filmed entirely in India and self-funded by husband and wife  team, Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl Cotton for my shroud lays out the stark reality of life for cotton farmers in India. From 1997 to 2010 (according to official statistics) over 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide. In the decade from 1991 to 2001 over eight million farmers quit farming. As the voice over comments ‘Every summer, the farmer sows hope...every winter he harvests loss...sometimes death’.

But behind the figures are real people, with real lives and families. Cotton for my shroud  takes us into the heart of village India where we meet farmers, their families, politicians and police who are involved in these life and death struggles to survive.

A farmer's body at the morgue 

The film starts with a TV ad: ‘Plant Bt and your son will get employment/you can build a house/marry your daughter/pay off the medical expenses of your aging father.’

An attractive promise which carries a lot of weight in rural communities. How could it not be true? It’s on TV and carries all the  implied authority of ‘modern’, the corporate promise of a better life, not just for the farmer, but for the entire family. 

How easy is it for people who have lived a traditional life, with little or no access to the internet, and who live in a rigidly feudal and hierarchical society, to contemplate that what they are seeing is a glossy lie?

‘Last year Bt let us down badly’ says a grieving widow, whose husband killed himself.  ‘For two years it did not grow’.

An activist comments, ‘The introduction of hybrid [Bt] seeds has trapped farmers. Initially they advertised aggressively: plant this seed, plant that seed. They trapped us. Even if we try to break free we do not know the way out. The fertility of our land has reduced. Pest infestation has increased. The farmers are unable to find a way out.’

Activist Vandana Shiva contextualises the issue. “Every government extension agency is selling the seeds of Monsanto - non renewable, unreliable, untrusted seeds’.

We see bullock carts laden with raw cotton as Shiva continues, ‘India lost its freedom to Britain for two hundred years. Now we face another kind of slavery. Anyone who controls the seed and agro chemical industry controls our agriculture.’

A key issue brought out in the film is the high input costs which farmers are faced with with Bt cotton and the low selling cost. Traditional cotton seeds were around Rs 30/kg. Initially the Bt seeds were Rs 200/kg. Now they are around Rs 5000/kg... and it takes 1 kg of seeds to sow an acre of land. Fertiliser used to cost Rs 30 per sack. Now it’s Rs 200. Pesticides used to be Rs 30/litre. Now the average cost is Rs 15,000 per litre.

The input cost for the farmer has increased around five hundred fold, while the output on parched and degraded land.

While companies claim that Bt seeds will yield 25 quintals of cotton per acre, the reality for farmers is an average yield of one quintal per acre. Faced with a debt of Rs 60,000, and produce which will fetch, at best Rs 30,000, it is hardly surprising that some farmers are so overwhelmed by their situation that they kill themselves.
The cotton market where wholesalers buy

Two other factors came into play :an overnight rush into cash crops, to the exclusion of food crops, and the total disappearance of any kind of non-agricultural occupation like traditional weaving, carpentry, blacksmiths.

A politician observes, ‘Farmers do not have a strong lobby. Big industrial houses and MNCs have  a strong lobby, and a strong influence on the policies.’

Vandana Shiva explains, ‘Globalisation transformed agriculture into a huge market for the global seed industry, which happens also to be the global agri-chemical industry....They realised how important control over seed is because it’s the first link in the food chain. You control seed and you control agriculture. They started to buy up small local seed companies, so today five giant seed companies control the seed supply to the world’.

Monsanto controls 95% of all GM seeds sold in the world.

A bureaucrat comments, ‘There is a nexus between MNCs, our bureaucracy and our political setup.’ The unfortunate cotton farmers are caught in this web of globalisation, vested interests, relentless lies and ruthless profiteering, paying with their misery and lives to fill the coffers of wealthy bureaucrats, wealthy MNC workers and the global fashion industry.

This film is a searing indictment of greed. Passionate, well researched and simply told, we are given a rare access into the lives of those whose voices are rarely heard...Indian cotton farmers and their families. And this process is not just about what’s happening in India, with cotton. It’s a global phenomenon.

Farming villagers protest in solidarity

Filmmaker Kavita Bahl explains how the film came about.

Why did you make this film?
The answer involves our ethics and philosophy about life. Both Nandan Saxena (my husband and co filmmaker) and myself subscribe to the Cree saying:

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river
been poisoned and the last fish been caught
will we realize that we cannot eat money”.
Nandan Saxena getting the shot

In India, a country where farmers, the life-nourishers, are giving up on life...what can be worse? We asked ourselves- what are we waiting for? For the Cree saying to come true...we hope not!

We are both children of teachers. Perhaps, this genetic code helps us survive in a very materialistic world.

How have audiences reacted to the film?
People, especially in countries other than India, have queries related to the choice and right of the farmer over his/her crop, etc. They need to understand the relationship between the land and the farmer in India; the farmer's total dependence on the State for what to grow and how to grow; the hand-in-glove relation of the Indian Government and the multinationals. Earlier this year, our audience at London (Cotton for my shroud was the Headline Film at the Investigative Film Week) was shocked after watching the film and discussed the issues with us at length.

Why did you decide to self-fund the film?
Self-funding was not a choice- it was a path. Seeking funds for such films is a Herculean task in this country. There are hardly any funds for the documentary and thousands vie for the small tid-bits of the same pie. We just decided to go ahead on our own and Cotton for my shroud was the result. All our savings have gone into making this film. It has hurt our bank balance but not our spirit.

You mention that there is a demand for the French, Spanish and local language versions. Can you say more about this?

Making the film in English is essential but not enough. It helps it travel and reach a wider audiences in cities- both in India and abroad. The film addresses not only policy-makers but also farming communities in India, since it is about their seed freedom. Many do not understand English, so we need local language versions.

French and Spanish versions are required to screen it in nations which are either pro/against genetic modification. This Indian story is relevant to all countries which have farming communities, governments and multinational corporations. Our films are often used as learning and advocacy tools by NGOs and various organisations working towards policy matters.The language versions are required to take the film to the grassroots.

A team is required to see that the films are made professionally and within the given time frame. Besides the professional charges to be paid to the translator and voice-artist, each language version film has to be re-edited.

Congratulations to all involved in this project. Is there likely to be a follow-up?
Follow-up shall definitely be done. Hopefully, we shall have some funds in place for it. People who appreciate Cotton for my shroud should ideally help the farming communities by bringing out their voice through the film. Amen.

copyright all images Nandan Saxena

Sunday 10 November 2013


You thought cotton was just a cool, comfortable fabric. You thought all this stuff about sweatshops and TNCs (Transnational corporations) was new. You thought history was sooo did we...until we started our research on FROM SEED TO SHOP. This hidden cotton story starts millennia ago, but is still shaping and colouring our lives today. We unpick cotton’s past...and show how the clothes we wear today are full of secrets, lies and the dust of empires, and how, by examining these threads steeped in history, we can gain the freedom, clarity, and peace of mind to empower our lives today.

Cotton Karma
Someone said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, and, like some kind of geopolitical karma, the threads of the cotton story twist and turn, like the shrouding fabric in the dance of the seven veils, alternately revealing and hiding the complexities of a millennia of the relationship between gossypium and homo sapiens.

Investigating the history of cotton and how its use has become ubiquitous today, gives fascinating insights into a surprising number of very current issues. TNCs tick. Colonialism tick. The re writing of history to create a western-centric supremacist narrative tick. The karma of these threads is a testament to history being re-written by the victors.

Makeover Magic
Prior to its makeover as populous, poor and poverty-ridden, India, where samples of cotton dating from around 3000 BC have been discovered, was for centuries a key player, noted as an exceptionally rich and prosperous country, largely due to its highly successful and diverse cotton industry. According to [source] ‘the cotton textiles of the Harappan civilisation (2300-1700 BC) were produced by sophisticated textile craftsmanship’.

Bangladesh, (coincidentally?) now synonymous with sweatshop labour and abject poverty, was known as a place which produced exquisite cotton fabrics. One traveller eulogised ‘...cotton fabric made in the Kingdom of Rahmi (now Bangladesh) is so fine and delicate that a dress made of it may pass through a signet ring.’

Although Agra and Gujarat in India were also know for producing fine cotton, ‘The best, however, were the Dacca (now Dhaka) muslins which were given names like ‘running water’ (because if placed in a stream it could scarcely be seen), or ‘woven air’ (because if thrown in the air it would float like a cloud) and ‘evening dew’ (because if spread on the grass it would be mistaken for dew)’.

A far cry from the tragic images of the Bangladeshi capital now associated with textile sweatshop tragedies like Rana Plaza. So what happened?

Untangling the knots
In the seventeenth century, Dacca was noted as the most famous textile centre in the world (eclipsing Ahmedabad, Benares (now Varanasi) and Bengal). The English started exporting Dacca muslins around 1666 AD. Less than a decade later, ‘the fashion of wearing these fabrics became pretty general in England’.

Cotton was woven, fabric was shipped, profits were made...for centuries, until vested socio-political interests in Britain lobbied for protectionist laws banning the import of foreign cotton to encourage the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable at home, rather than pay skilled workers overseas.

Centuries later, the GAP, the Primarks the H&Ms, the Wallmart/Asdas and others, discovered the rich vein of exploitable labour forces in former new colonial hinterlands of predominantly low-paid female child labour. The Bangladeshi capital has been making more cotton-related news...for the Rana Plaza building collapse, and a series of fires which have killed workers in textile sweatshops. Consumers are encouraged to think more about their duties as responsible global citizens with a duty of care to the poor and vulnerable. They are not encouraged to have a think about how their prosperous and perhaps paternalisitic gaze may be predicated on the waves of systematic exploitation and protectionism.

Threads of destruction
Exploring the Cotton Story, as it weaves and twists, soft, white, fluffy, stained in sweat and blood, is a surreal experience into the realms of colonialism, protectionism and exploitation of the poor and often desperate. What is striking is that these social motifs, memes of destruction, have remained so persistent. Four hundred years collapsing like a row of dominos into now.

The first TNC?
Leading the charge as a forerunner of neoliberal imperialism, was the British East India Company, a joint venture in 1615 between a British aristocrat and a Mughal emperor. The first textile factory was established in Surat (thrust briefly into the headlines in 1994 for an outbreak of bubonic plague). The second was in Madras (now Chennai). Trading between the Indian cotton and Britain began in 1640, from the port of Calicut...from which the term calico (a type of cotton) derived.

The early days
In India, the cotton industry was diversified. Extensive knowledge of growing the different varieties of gossypium plant, combined with a suitable climate for cultivation and the knowledge to do so successfully, meant that cotton of many different qualities could be produced. Artisans working from home created huge varieties of cottons, which were distributed by an extensive network of merchants and traders.

Reinventing the wheel
Hand spinning cotton was the norm for centuries, although there is evidence that the spinning wheel was known in the Middle East around 1260. The word charkha, meaning spinning wheel, is of Persian origin. With the spread of a technical, cultural and design influence of the Islamic world on Hindu India, from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, came the use of the spinning wheel.

While the spinning wheel was used in China in the fourteenth century, in South India, the more labour intensive hand spinning was the norm for centuries.

According to Cotton, the Fabric Which made the Modern World, ‘...the technologies of bowing, reeling, ginning and spinning of cotton suggest the existence of a mutual influence between different areas of Eurasia. There was a slow technological convergence, especially in the [beginning]. However, there was no overall ‘global’ technological
paradigm, no best practice or technological leadership, as each area developed its dedicated technologies, often as a result of specific product specialism.’ (itals added).

Retelling the Cotton Story
And this is mysterious. Because memories of the Cotton Story a la UK schooldays sang a different song. In this version, various kind of handlooms were produced in faraway places with strange-sounding names until the doughty inventions of the spinning jenny, some kind of mule and various other cotton-related technologies, by various very English sounding gents. You know the kind of thing...that notion of history (adapted and embellished, often just plain wrong) + technology (inspirational bolt of lightning concept from some chap) = progress/utopia/land of milk and honey where the just dwell.

This narrative of societal experience, a makeover with scant regard for facts and nuances, is as dangerous as it it simplistic, seductive and obviously ‘true’. And so flattering.

If history is all ‘progress’ (aka development) and we are living now, the cheering implication is that well, hey, we’re at the top of the historical heap. We are progress. We are the best, living in the best of all possible worlds.

This construction/reconstruction of history/human experience/reality becomes visible as the veil of the cotton story is examined, dissected and ripped apart. By teasing out the threads of truth and deconstructing the fabric of lies we call history, we can start to understand ourselves and our place in the world...and find ourselves standing side by side with other people, other nations, other realities...our own stories wrapped around in cotton.

Monday 23 September 2013


We decided to delve deeper into the cotton story as a way of understanding more fully its global impact. It’s a fascinating story, thousands of years old, which links a humble shrub - of the Gossypium family with global changes across the millennia. Across the ages and across continents, it’s a story of power and privilege, poverty and pain, which interweaves  the lives of ordinary people in every corner of the planet in a fabric of need, money...and fashion.

Before we even get to the seeds, there’s the history of this now ubiquitous, but previously rare and valuable fabric...

Noone knows the names of the people who figured out how to turn the cellulose plant fibres we now call cotton, bursting out of their protective bolls (capsules) into a woven material. But these Einsteins of former times came up with the concept across the globe.

Cotton fibres preserved in copper beads 7,000 years old were discovered by archaeologists in parts of what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India. From south America to China and Iran (Persia), these threads of plant fibre were spun into cloth. The ancient Greeks and Arabs told tales of trees on which wool Indica, modern-day India.

For around two millennia, India remained the main producer  of this ‘king of crops’ or ‘white gold’. It was written about in sacred texts, and India had a flourishing trade in cotton textiles with Greece, Egypt, Persia (Iran) and the Roman Empire.

For centuries, cotton spinning and weaving remained the almost exclusive preserve of Indian craftspeople, and  the fine muslins and calico cloths they produced clothed everyone from royalty to peasants.

The entire process of manufacturing the cotton cloth was a cottage industry, carried out at the weaver’s home. Cotton was bought directly from farmers. The weaver and his family would ‘gin’ the cotton to separate the fibre from the seeds; ‘card’ it, to make it fluffy, then spin it into thread or yarn on their spinning wheels. The yarn was woven into a cloth on a handloom the dyed with plant or vegetable dyes.

When the cloth was finished, the weaver would sell it to the merchant, who came to the village, or take it to the village market. Farmers and weavers lived in a symbiotic relationship of growing and transforming gossypium into cotton cloth.

Sometime in the late medieval period (1400s) cotton became known as an imported fibre in northern Europe. People knew only that it came from plants, imagining trees of sheep. One writer, in 1350, confidently explained: "There grew there [India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie [sic]."

The German word for cotton Baumwolle, which translates as tree wool, alludes to the ‘sheep trees’ concept. Around about this time the English word cotton (derived from the Arabic (al) qutn) began to be used.

By the end of the sixteenth century, cotton was being cultivated throughout the warmer regions of Asia and the americas.

What happened through the centuries to the cloth which started life as white fluffy fibres is a story less fluffy. It’s story of slavery, violence and coercion, which mirrors the issues around cotton production today.  This story across continents of the destruction of ancient, sustainable ways of life, and the industrialisation of production is as bloodstained and tragic as the farmer suicides taking place in India today.

By understanding the history of cotton, and the production process, we can see how the vested interests of a few powerful and ruthless players impact on the daily life and wellbeing of hundreds of millions of producers and consumers. From Seed to Shop will show the truth about cotton...a truth stained in the sweat and blood of innocent people, in which greed and ignorance combine to destroy lives and the environment...and how now, increasing numbers of visionary companies and consumers are saying ‘no’ to exploitation and destruction, and ‘yes’ to organic cotton. 

Friday 12 July 2013


LOHASia invited us to write about farmer suicides in India, and we asked award-winning filmmaker and journalist, Pamela Nowicka, to help. Pamela lived in India for eight years and interviewed farmers in Tamil Nadu, south India, for her film, Climate Change? No Thanks! She has extensively researched the issues of farmer suicide, GMO/Bt cotton, drought and climate change.

It’s hard to imagine life in rural India. No running water, no or intermittent electricity, problematic education and healthcare are the reality for the 500 million people who live in villages. Women collect water from a pump or well, the bushes are the toilet, and extreme weather (40c+) in the summer, monsoons, droughts and flooding, are part of life.

For the rich, in guarded, gated communities, surrounded by retinues of servants, life is privileged beyond belief; for the rest, it’s a struggle to survive.

Around half the kids, and a smaller percentage of adults are malnourished; even low-quality healthcare is several hours travel away. Many rural communities haven’t heard of the internet, let alone have access to it. The caste system keeps people firmly in their place...generation after generation. Resistance, particularly in rural areas, is met with abuse, violence, and, frequently death. Farmers live on a knife edge, dependent on a good and timely monsoon - not too much, not too little  - to water their crops, earn a living and repay their debts.

Enter US transnational corporation (TNC) Monsanto, determined to shoehorn cotton farmers into accepting their genetically modified (GM/Bt)cotton seeds, locking them into an expensive round of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and non-propagating seeds, while promising that the cotton crop produced would be more profitable.

The farmers were an easy and lucrative target. In the absence of objective information, coerced by a bureaucracy which sides with the powerful, and desperate to improve their fragile lifestyles, farmers paid for the expensive seeds and chemicals with loans from money-lenders at extortionate rates of interest.

But, as documented by Indian journalist P Sainath instead of improving lives, over the last two decades, tens of thousands killed themselves.

Why did Monsanto’s promises of a better crop turn into an epidemic of misery?  If the crop fails, which it frequently does due to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, far from improved profits, the farmer is unable to even pay back the money-lender (often the loan will be hundreds of times higher than the original amount). And the expensive GM/Bt cotton crop kept failing.

A report to the Indian Parliament, does not mince words.“The farmers blamed the policies of the government... In particular... Bt cotton...with the inception of Bt cotton, input costs had gone high resulting in farmers falling into the debt trap...those wanting to cultivate non-Bt cotton were not able to do so. Bt cotton was pushing the farmers into the vicious cycle of debt and being unable to repay the debt due to decreasing earning farmers were under severe stress and developing a feeling of loss of their self-respect which was ultimately pushing them to commit suicide. ..

“The committee also (met) widows who in the aftermath of their husband’s suicide were hard pressed to make ends meet. The villagers implored the committee to voice their request to the concerned central authorities to ban farming of Bt cotton in the country.” (my itals).

Rural India does not have alternative employment opportunities for exhausted, demoralised debt-ridden farmers. In a culture where the watchword is ‘what will people think?’,  it’s understandable that tens of thousands of farmers saw no other way out than to take their own lives...often, horrifically, by drinking the very pesticides used on their crops, in a painful and protracted death.

For a fortunate minority, the switch to organic farming has been a lifeline. Farmers I met http:// who had switched from conventionally farmed crops (mangos) to organic, were evangelical about how this was a life-saver. This litany of praise is repeated where ever farmers have taken up organic cultivation. Some describe chemical cotton farming as being ‘against the course of Nature’.

Freed from getting into debt for expensive GMO seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, organic farmers are released from a chemical treadmill. Traditional farming methods and seeds, with an emphasis on sustainability and maintaining the quality of soil and water, give a healthier lifestyle and better income.

This is the context in which Nukleus is operating. It’s a global issue, and consumers too have their part to play.  We need to demand more organic cotton products, that don’t kill farmers, pollute ecosystems and contribute to global ecocide. We want nice clothes and to look good. But if the clothes we wear are stained in the blood of dead farmers, and our to-die-for fashion is killing streams, soil and animals, it’s hard to see how we can enjoy wearing them.

Tuesday 11 June 2013



1) Ordinary, non-organic cotton, is actually chemical cotton. At every stage in its lifecycle, huge amounts of toxic chemicals have been used, from GM seeds, to pesticides, to finishes on the fabric.
2) Harmful chemicals may be introduced at all stages of the production process, including fibre processing, yarn spinning,yarn dyeing, fabric manufacture, garment manufacture, garment dyeing, and screen printing.
3) The chemical residue of all the products used on chemical cotton cannot be entirely removed because most of the chemicals do not wash out.
4) These chemicals can shift from the clothes to our skin and into our bodies when clothes are worn where they can trigger rashes, allergies, and other, long-term, and serious conditions.
5) The skin is the largest organ of the human body. Not only does it keep out bacteria, dirt and water out, it also lets things in - oxygen, sunlight, and chemicals - think moisturisers and other body-beautiful products. Less a wall, more like a wire fence, many medicines are specifically designed to be absorbed through the skin, from pain-relief plasters, to nicotine patches.
6) The chemicals being absorbed from fabrics by the skin include dioxin - a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor. According to WHO (World Health Organisation) ‘Dioxins [are]considered highly toxic and able to cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer’.
7)As well as being linked to infertility, decreased sperm count, menstrual problems, and birth defects, dioxins have been linked with diabetes and liver damage and damaging the body’s immune system.
8) Manufactured by US chemical TNCs (transnational corporations), Dow and Monsanto, (currently pushing for global acceptance of their GM seeds and crops), dioxin was used (as Agent Orange ) in chemical warfare carried out by the US against Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War.
9) Dioxin has been described as ‘perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man’.
10) Dioxin accumulates in the body over time, adding to the toxic load/body burden of artificial chemicals in the body over a lifetime. This is the ‘chemical cocktail which can cause kinds of illnesses, conditions and health impacts, from relatively mild to terminal.
11) BONUS FACT: dioxins are also concentrated in meat, dairy and fish products.

Monday 27 May 2013


A month on from the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Nukleus CEO CW Tan speaks about working conditions in the Nukleus partner factory in China.

Cotton Story (CS) Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment-making factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the death of over one thousand workers, many Nukleus customers would like to know more about how Nukleus innerwear is made...

CW Tan (CWT) First, let me extend my sincere condolences to all those tragically affected by the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It is horrific that in 2013 garments are still being made in conditions which endanger workers' lives.

However, there is pressure from buyers to keep costs down. The price of garments is falling in the US and European markets in the wake of the economic crisis. Some brands feel that to survive they put pressure on the supply chain (factories) to compromise on things they don't think are critical, like wages and working conditions. The owners know what's going on but take no action.

CS Many people think of factories in China as being sweatshops. What is the Nukleus experience?

CWT China has a very large manufacturing base, from the lowest to the highest standards. Big brands source a lot from China, so the supply chain is there. We are very selective about the companies we deal with.

CS How did you find your Chinese manufacturer?

CWT They have worked with us for a very long time. They supply the US and Europe and have a social and health element of accountability to international standards. We visit them at least once a year, and a partner visits them every month. Their standards follow ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions on minimum wages, hygiene, freedom to form unions. They also adhere to occupational health and safety management systems to ensure safe working conditions. And we try to educate them and share information, tell them how important these issues are.

CS Doesn’t this conflict with profitability? Business is, after all, about the bottom line...

CWT Incidents like Rana Plaza have heightened consumer awareness. We must be forward thinking, and cannot be just short term. It’s part and parcel of our brand values. There’s no question at all. We’re not going to Bangladesh even if it is 15-20% cheaper. Someone will pay for that - people, the environment - someone will pay.

CS You mentioned international regulations. What about enforcement issues?

CWT I would like to see stricter enforcement. It can be costly for buyers to audit. Even brands like Levi’s face these issues, and we are a small brand. But the factory we work with is almost a partner, a virtual factory. They do 80% of our production and this imposes a lot of discipline on them. We can’t be 100% satisfied, but we’ve been working with them for over ten years. There’s room for improvement, and if I had my own way and resources permitted, I’d send in my own auditors.

CS How does having a long-term relationship with the factory affect production?

CWT I know the factory manager, we communicate in Chinese, and send each other family greetings at Chinese New Year. We know the designers and the boss. They moved to a new factory last year and improved factory conditions a lot. They are definitely above average. They used to work a 7 day week, now it’s 6.

CS What is your message to Nukleus customers about the way the garments are produced?

CWT Nukleus has a strong emphasis on eco and conscience. It’s all inter-related and this issue is relevant and more prominent now. We can’t claim we’re perfect, but we’re consciously aware and consciously working on all of this, Sustainability is a journey, with many stops on the supply chain road...from the dyeing factory, to the elastic producers, to the accessory makers. They’re all qualified in environmental aspects  and also pay attention to social aspects. Increasingly global consumers demand more and this is definitely an area we want to further improve. We’re not perfect, but we’re not bad, so we’re reasonably happy.

Friday 15 February 2013

Cotton and Water

On February 10, 2013, millions of people around the world celebrated Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. It marked the beginning of the year of the Snake—the Water Snake, to be exact. So we thought it good to write a post about water.

To begin with, there’s lots of water on Earth. It covers around 70% of our planet. The problem is, an enormous proportion of that water is not useable: 97% is salty; and 2% is locked in ice or snow. That leaves us with around 1%. Out of that small quantity, 70% of is used for agriculture, including cotton production.

Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world. Scientists estimate that it takes an average of 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt—that’s enough for a person to drink for 900 days! Not surprisingly, some countries have resorted to irrigation to sustain their cotton fields. 

Irrigation can have serious consequences for the environment. Take Uzbekistan, a country in Central Asia. It has diverted water from rivers that feed the Aral Sea (an inland sea) to transform vast areas into cotton fields. The results are catastrophic. Today, almost 90% of the Sea is gone; ecosystems and the livelihoods dependent upon them have been destroyed. The Environmental Justice Foundation in the UK writes: “[The] demise [of the Aral Sea] is one of the greatest ecological disasters in modern history, and it is entirely human-made.”

Contrast: Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and what's left of it in 2009 (right)

Nukleus doesn’t buy its cotton from Uzbekistan. Besides, we use organic cotton, which requires less water to grow. Around 3,000 cubic metres per acre less, to be precise. How is this possible? Through environmentally friendly practices such as crop rotation and composting, organic farmers help to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil—this enhances the soil’s capacity to retain water.

If you love cotton and the environment, then choose organic cotton.

Watch this video to learn more about the situation in Uzbekistan.

Friday 1 February 2013

Part 3: Solutions; Chapter 2: The Beneficiaries

Maharashtra: a large, populous state in the west of India. It’s where Bombay is. Which means Maharashtra is the home of Bollywood, the heart of India’s film industry. 

It’s also the home of millions of cotton farmers. But our UK-based filmmaker friend Leah Borromeo calls it “India’s cotton suicide state.” (If you wish to know more about the suicides, please read our previous posts on the subject.)

But all is not bleak in the western state. Take Jalgaon. Nicknamed “the banana capital of India” or simply “banana city,” it’s not surprisingly a key banana production area. At the same time, it produces a significant amount of cotton. Some farmers in Jalgaon have switched from conventional cotton farming to organic cotton farming; several have been at it since 2000. Why?

The short answer: survival. 

We spoke with those who’ve made the switch and heard the same comment, farmer after farmer: “The costs of conventional farming kept on increasing; but soil health and yield kept on dropping. It was very difficult to make ends meet.”

And for some reason, the remarks of 50 year-old Ramesh Patil stuck in our minds: “In the old days, I was always incurring losses. I was living hand to mouth.” We wondered, what would’ve happened if things hadn’t changed?

But things did change: Ramesh decided to go organic in 2005, with the help of the Morarka Foundation. He admitted that he was initially doubtful about his decision: would organic farming deliver the desired results? His doubts were soon dispelled. He told us: “I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the benefits of the organic inputs. Not only this, the Morarka Foundation has helped me get the best market price for my organic cotton and other organic produce. Year after year, the productivity of my land is increasing and now I am living a much better life.”

Ramesh and family in their cotton field

Ramesh and family and their other organic produce

Ramesh’s success story isn’t an isolated one. There’re also the stories of Kailash, Sunil, Atul and many others. They’re all living better lives because of organic farming. And because of the Morarka Foundation.

Nukleus is proud to be associated with the Foundation. We hope our collaboration will improve the lives of many more Indian farmers.

Ramesh and family and their farm animals

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Part 3: Solutions; Chapter 1: The Foundation

In the final quarter of 2012, we publicly announced a major shift in our sourcing policy. Specifically, we decided to source 100% of our organic cotton from India’s Morarka Organic. This entity is backed by the Morarka Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of Indian farmers through organic agriculture.

The Foundation was set up in 1994 by Mr. Kamal Morarka, one of India’s leading philanthropists. Since day one of its establishment, its aim has been to create wealth for India’s communities “through innovations in resource management and capacity building.”

Mr Kamal Morarka, front row, to the lady's left
The Foundation is known for its cutting-edge work in the following areas:

Research and development of vermiculture (i.e. composting using earthworms)

  • It collaborated with local farmers and invented the windrows method of vermiculture. This method is now utilised in over 90% of the world’s production of vermiculture.
  • It has also succeeded in increasing the nutrients in vermiculture, thereby reducing the cost of applications (per hectare of land) and making vermiculture one of the most economically viable organic inputs in the world.
Production of vermiculture

  • It runs the single largest vermiculture production programme in the world, boasting an annual production capacity of 7 million metric tonnes of vermicast.

Vermiculture: Composting using earthworms
Development of probiotics for fertility and pest management in agriculture

  • It was the first to identify, isolate and extract primary and secondary plant metabolites from over 30 agriculture products; these metabolites are then used as on-farm fertility and pest management inputs.

Not surprisingly, the Foundation is widely recognised as a thought leader in sustainable agriculture.

Moreover, all its know-how is worth money. The Foundation is, however, strongly against the patenting of its technologies. Its stance: they are for the common good and must be shared. Hence, these technologies remain open-source and anyone can use them. In fact, the Foundation actively disseminates these technologies to the Indian farming community and others.

Additionally, the Foundation acquires the community’s organic produce through Morarka Organic using Fair Trade prices, principles and practices. In other words, it is an organization that doesn’t leave the farmers hanging.

Today, the Foundation is helping to improve the lives of approximately 250,000 farming families in 15 Indian states—this is possibly the world’s single largest organic agriculture development and support programme. Nukleus hopes to increase this number significantly through its collaboration with Morarka Organic. We also hope that you will support the farmers by buying and wearing organic cotton. The more organic cotton we use, the more farmers we can persuade to switch to organic farming.

Beneficiaries of the Foundation's programme

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Part 2: Pesticides; Chapter 3: India and Leah

The pesticide problem is big and pervasive. How do we address it? Where do we start?

Clearly, a lot of people need help. We wish we could help everyone. But realistically, we can’t. At times we wish we were a big company with vast resources, so that we can do more. We’re just not.

Still, we want to help—it’s the right thing to do. But because of the constraints we face, we have to make a choice. 

We made ours last year: We decided to help the cotton farmers of India. Specifically, we’ve decided to source 100% of our organic cotton from India’s Morarka Organic which is backed by the Morarka Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of Indian farmers through organic agriculture.

It wasn’t a decision that was made lightly. Indeed, we thought long and hard about it. One of the factors that tipped the scale was that India is home to the world’s largest cotton farming community—with around 17 million farmers. So we thought: India is the place where the positive impact of organic cotton farming can be felt most strongly.

The viewpoints of others have reinforced the feeling that we’ve made the right decision. One such viewpoint is that of Leah Borromeo. 

Leah is a UK-based filmmaker and journalist. We were introduced to her by Keith Tyrell, the Director of Pesticide Action Network UK. (PAN UK is the organisation that made the Benin video which we highlighted in our last post.)

Leah in action in India
A couple of years back, Leah made a short film called “Dirty White Gold.” In it, she brought to the fore India’s suicide crisis. We still remember her haunting narration: “Up to 7 people a day kill themselves by drinking the very pesticides that drove them to their desperate act.” Why?

Pesticides are expensive—they can make up 60% of the cotton production costs. But the farmers of India are willing to go heavily into debt to buy them, because they’ve been told that their crops can’t thrive without them. The reality is, however, this: crop protection is merely one of several success factors; there are other factors, such as weather, which is unpredictable; and the absence of even one can lead to crop failure. When that happens, the farmers can’t settle their debts. A painful decision is then made: some choose to go to jail; some choose to end their lives.

The cotton farmers of India need help. As far as we know, it’s the only country with an ongoing “farmer suicide epidemic.” Which is why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Today, Leah is on a mission—she wants to make ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry the norm, not the exception, by making the supply chain transparent. She is currently “crowdfunding” to enlarge the Dirty White Gold project. 

Leah has an important message for the world. Let’s support her and help her spread it.

You can support Leah financially at Any and every contribution helps.