NEW DELHI — In its first partnership with the World Wildlife Fund India, the C&A Foundation has launched an initiative to cultivate organic cotton.
The program will work with more than 6,000 farmers over the next three years and will help them with education and disseminating information, as well as with certification for organic cotton, which farmers say is often the hardest part of the process for them. This will also give farmers more access to international organic cotton markets.
“We’ve done a pilot program with WWF in China, so we already have a relationship with them. Organic cotton is an important investment area,” Leslie Johnston, executive director of the C&A Foundation, said. The private foundation is affiliated with the global clothing retailer C&A.
In 2014, the foundation committed 3.9 million euros, or $5.5 million, to improving the lives and livelihoods of smallholder cotton farmers, with 11 initiatives funded last year. The India program had a big focus, with 3.2 million euros focused on that sector.
“The second thing is the value proposition that WWF brings with the conservation area is very interesting,” she said.
Johnston explained that in addition to helping farmers, the ability to work on conservation could be compelling from a consumer perspective. This in turn could help farmers get through the interim three-year period that it takes to reach the certification phase.
As arguments about using genetically modified cotton and pesticides have got increasingly fierce over the last few years in India, growing organic cotton is being seen as a possible solution to problems faced by cotton farmers — both in terms of earning as well as sustainability of their land.
“When farmers manage their land sustainably, they can help preserve critical habitats by improving soil and water quality. This, in turn, enhances their agricultural productivity in the long-term,” said Dr. Sejal Worah, program director of the WWF India.
The project is in the area adjacent to the Pench Tiger Reserve in Central India, in the Satpuda-Pench corridor. Cotton production is a primary source of income for nearly 1.6 million farmers in the area.
Central India is home to one of the country’s largest intact forest tracts and endangered species including tigers, barasingha (a deer species in the Indian subcontinent) and gaur, also known as the Indian bison.