By Diana J. Choyce
Nov 15 - 21, 1999
Organic cotton growing
could be benefit to Pakistan
Well over 35 million hectares of conventional cotton is cultivated
globally, and its all the same colour. Get ready for the new tide of rainbow colour cotton
crops. Actually natural pigmented cotton has been produced in the Andean area of South
America since 2700 B.C. But since 1993 these colour crops have been making a comeback in
both domestic and export markets.
Environmental concerns have prompted this revival as man gains more
awareness of his impact on his world. Cotton has been a primarily agrochemical dependent
crop. Close to 25 per cent of total pesticides are used on cotton crops, costing farmers
well over $400 million dollars annually. Well over 14 pounds are used per acre of cotton.
Farmers borrow about $750-$1000 dollars per acre to finance their crops and lenders
actually require use of chemical sprays to insure a return on their investments. On the
other hand, organic farmers spend about two thirds less to produce their crops. Partly to
do lack of financing because lenders and not likely to back their crops. And also due to
the savings in not using chemicals on their crops. An organic farmer can make between
$1.15 and $1.35 per pound of fiber when conventional farmers bring in only about .72 cents
Herbicides and pesticides have been found to cause cancer in dolphins
and other marine life. And a recent survey concluded that as many as 67 million birds are
killed each year in the US. Chlorine bleaching of cotton fabric is a big contributor to
depletion of the ozone layer. And dyes used to colour the fabrics can also damage the
atmosphere as well as taint water supplies. Also the constant expansion of conventional
crops has caused a drying up of inland lakes and wetlands due to damming and diverting
rivers for needed water irrigation.
The biggest problem with these natural colour crops, is the cotton
fibers which are too short, thin, and weak to be used in a modern textile mill. Enter
Sally Fox who began her career as an inventor in 1982 as a handspinner for a California
cotton breeder. Sally fell in love with the idea of creating colour based crops and
embarked on a way to breed them. Her success has resulted in a patent and three Plant
Variety Protection Certificates for her naturally coloured cottons which, in addition to
browns, she now grows in reds and greens. She has also spun off two successful companies
in Vreseis, Ltd. and Natural Cotton Colours, both operating in Arizona and California.
Beside the obvious advantage to the environment, natural colour cotton
actually deepens in colour with repeated washings, unlike dyed cotton, which fades.
Coloured cotton plants also resist pests and drought better, so they are very adaptable to
dryland farming. But her work in the field has not been easy as she was met with
resistance in many areas. Over the years problems have developed with the Arizona
Department of Agriculture and Arizona Cotton Growers Association which may have resulted
in her products being dropped from many well known retailers. This has caused severe
financial problems for Sally and required a move to California to continue her business
without interference. At last report, her FoxFibre cotton is being grown successfully in
California and the future is looking good.
In 1995 the organic cotton market crashed due to lack of consumer
sales. Even though tons produced surpassed the 13,000 mark, many large companies abandoned
their projects in 1996 and moved back to conventional methods. But the recent increase in
environmental awareness has led to a new growth of interest. Whether developing countries
can afford to move into organic farming remains an interesting question. Production in
tons in 1997 ranged from 5 in Brazil to almost 3000 in the US with the yearly worldwide
total reaching 8000. The majority of tonnage is grown in Egypt, India, Peru, Turkey,
Uganda, and the US. There is also a wealth of clothing suppliers and retailers to be found
doing business on the internet. This has led to increased consumer knowledge that these
products are available and affordable.
Pakistan cotton production estimates for 1999 were 10 million bales.
Last year's figures were about 9000. Domestic use is expected in the 9000 range leaving 1
million ready for export. China's flood problems have seriously reduced their production
and has opened an export lane for Pakistan to the Far East and Asia. Local textile
manufacturers have complained at high domestic prices but the need for an influx of
foreign monies into the country should override their needs. Given the ongoing pollution
problems, organic cotton growing could be a benefit to the country. But would it fill the
financial needs of the economy? Probably not, but even if only a fraction of Pakistan's
cotton output would include organic crops, it could still bring in needed profits and help
the environmental problems at the same time.