Local retailer champions organic cotton industry

Posted by Laura Grant on June 27, 2007
Posted in Lifestyle

Cotton plant

South Africans are definitely starting to get greener. You can see the evidence on the supermarket shelves: in the past six months, the number of organic or “green-branded” products in my local Pick ‘n Pay seems to have multiplied exponentially, and even Checkers has started marketing its organic vegetable line. This can only be in response to consumer demand, so let’s hope this trend continues to strengthen.

Of the major retailers, Woolworths was the first to start marketing to the eco-conscious, providing a selection of organic foods and clothing made from organically grown cotton. Its organic cotton range appears to be gaining in popularity. According to a story in the Business Report (June 25 2007), Woolworths’ organic cotton clothing range is expected to be worth R30-million for the past year, and the retailer has set a target of R400-million by 2012. That means it’s expecting the market to quadruple in the next five years.

However, at present the retailer has to source most of the supplies for its organic clothing range from India because there are no organic cotton farmers in South Africa. So to drive its 100%-cotton clothing range, Woolworths says it plans to help establish a local organic cotton farming sector by 2010, reports Business Report.

This month the retailer hosted a conference in Cape Town with Organic Exchange, a US-based non-profit organisation, to look at the issues around creating a sustainable organically grown cotton industry in Africa, Sapa reports.

Rebecca Calahan Klein, Organic Exchange’s programme development director, told Sapa that “South Africa could have organic cotton next year if one of the organic farmers growing food says, ‘Oh one of the crops I’d like to grow this year would be cotton’.”

She said that South Africa was a prime area for developing an organic cotton industry because it had a strong manufacturing base capable of processing the cotton, which would allow a complete chain of production.

Klein said she hoped the South African organic cotton market would fit in with her organisation’s aim of seeing between 7 and 10% of the world’s cotton supply organic in the next 10 to 15 years. Certified organic cotton currently represents an estimated 0.1% of the cotton grown in the world, according to data on Organic Exchange’s website.

According to Sapa, the organic cotton movement says conventionally grown cotton accounts for about a quarter of total world usage of insecticides, including a number that are highly toxic to humans, as well as herbicides to inhibit weeds. About 2,5kg of pesticides are applied per acre (0.4 hectares) in conventional cotton farming, according to Organic Exchange.

A Woolworths spokesperson told Business Report that local farmers had to be convinced it was worthwhile to grow organic cotton: in general, organic yields are lower, although the prices they fetch are higher; and it can take up to three years for soils on which pesticides had been used to obtain organic certification.

South Africans needed to think what kind of environment they wanted for themselves and their children, Klein told Sapa. She said consumers needed to be taught “that they really have the power to make a decision that really matters”.

For more about organic cotton go to the Organic Exchange website

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