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.

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