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