THE FAIRTRADE FOUNDATION LAUNCHES NEW NON-GM COTTON SEED PROJECT

THE FAIRTRADE FOUNDATION LAUNCHES NEW NON-GM COTTON SEED PROJECT

To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day last week, the Fairtrade Foundation has announced that it has launched a three-year programme in India to grow non-GM cotton seeds, benefiting the environment, farmer’s health and commanding a higher price. 

Nearly two thirds of all cotton grown worldwide is now GM (genetically modified), which means that it is difficult for farmers to have access to non-GM seed varieties, which must be used to grow Fairtrade and organic cotton. 

Fairtrade is working in partnership with Pratibha Syntex, a sustainability-oriented, vertically-integrated manufacturer of knitted textile to pioneer the seeds, and the project is funded by TRAID. 

The objective is to develop new non-GM hybrids that have the exact cotton fibre parameters that the fashion and textile industry needs. The resulting seeds will be commercially produced and made available to farmers, allowing them to have more choice over how they farm. 

Cotton farmer in farm planted with new non-GMO seeds

The breeding programme is led by a professional seed breeder and has already produced some strong results following the initial pilot phase, when around 1,500 cotton farmers were given access to 9,200 organic seed packets produced by their own co-operative. The second phase of the project will see the development of new parent lines. 

Several seasons on and the farmers have produced their own packaged seeds for sale which have been developed with input from the project’s ‘star’ members who have trialled the seeds on their farms. The seeds are sold for Rs600 a packet, which is 30% cheaper than the equivalent packet of GM seeds costing Rs730 and has led to a 25% reduction in overall costs for farmers. The seeds have been bred to be pest resistant, drought tolerant and to grow plants that will be easy to harvest. 

Subindu Garkhel, Senior Cotton and Textiles Lead at the Fairtrade Foundation said:

“Our relationship with the Earth and the environment needs to be one of respect, as nature had always intended it to be. Without that, we cannot expect to have healthy soil and waterbodies. It is also important to future proof organic and Fairtrade cotton farmers, especially in these difficult times.”

“Having access to non-GM seeds will bring all the environmental and health benefits of growing organic cotton, plus a higher price, as the farmers can access the high-value Fairtrade markets with their cotton. By avoiding toxic pesticides, farmers avoid health problems and deaths common in non-organic cotton production. It also reduces their production costs.”

GM seeds that are available to farmers are bred for high-input agriculture which means farmers need to use expensive synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation. In India alone there is a 95% monopoly on the seed market, making it almost impossible for small-scale farmers who want to cultivate Fairtrade or organic cotton to source non-GM seeds. 

Katherine Hamnett fashion designer visits Fairtrade seed project
Katherine Hamnett, fashion designer and Maria Chenoweth, CEO at TRAID, visiting a Fairtrade cotton farm 

Maria Chenoweth, TRAID’s Chief Executive said:

“We are very proud to support the work of the Fairtrade Foundation to enable Indian cotton farmers to grow organic. Increasing organic cotton production makes a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry, while reducing the use of hazardous pesticides. In the not too distant future, we hope every day will be Earth Day.”

Fairtrade is a member of the Climate Coalition, and is working alongside other organisations to protect the people, places and life we love. Visit https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/ for more information.

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