Around 40 million farmers produce over 60% of the world’s cotton. Many of these farmers are among the poorest globally.
Why are cotton farmers stuck in a cycle of poverty?
Overwhelmingly, cotton farmers are living in poverty—they are unable to own their own land and face high levels of illiteracy. Cotton producers depend on those above them in the supply chain (such as ginners) who often buy their cotton at prices below the cost of production.
Production costs are on the rise, market prices are fluctuating, yields are decreasing and climate change is having devastating impacts on crops. Alongside these challenges, farmers also face the rising insecurity and price of food.
For example, West African cotton farmers typically hold 5-12 acres of land, which they farm in order to pay for everyday needs including food, education, health care, seeds, and farming equipment. Even the smallest in drops of the cotton price can have terrible consequences for farmers. In India, farmers must take out high interest loans in order to buy fertilizers and other necessities. In the midst of these tragic conditions, many farmers are ending their own lives.
The complexities of the supply cotton supply chain have resulted in farmers having minimal power to increase their standing and receive more sustainable prices.
— Sardar Singh
Life as a cotton farmer is tough, everything is done by hand. But, it has improved because of Fairtrade. Before, middlemen came to our village and bought our cotton at prices that were way too low. Now, we get a better payment for our cotton. We’ve also converted to organic farming, and it’s actually cheaper for us to grow our cotton organically as we save the cost of buying expensive pesticides. I wish for my children to have a better life than I’ve had a life with education and a freer choice of future.
Cotton farmer from Tharwar Tanda, India
Exacerbating the situation are the subsidies being received by cotton growers in developed European countries and in the United States. While these subsidies are growing internal markets, smallholder cotton farmers in developing countries whose livelihoods rely on exports are suffering, as the global price of cotton is pushed down.
How does Fairtrade help these farmers to improve their lives?
We work together with smallholder cotton farmers in Latin America, Africa and Asia to build more resilient, farmer-owned organizations. Through this, farmers can have greater collective impact and be better placed to negotiate sustainable prices for their community with traders and ginners.
We encourage cotton production via social, economic and environmentally sustainable methods, and are the only certification system to provide the guaranteed protective price floor, through the Fairtrade Minimum Price, as well as additional Premium funds for community and business development.
In 2012-13, a total of 26 Fairtrade cotton farmer organizations across nine countries earned $711,000 in Fairtrade Premium payments, with much of this invested in community education and infrastructure such as roads and access to water. For example, cotton farmers in Senegal have seen many benefits from becoming Fairtrade certified. Watch this video to see them explaining how Fairtrade helps [https://vimeo.com/85454316].
Fairtrade has worked with thousands of small-scale cotton farmers to improve their lives. These producers have increased productivity, become more efficiently organized, and introduced measures for gender equality including pay and voting rights. A 2012 impact study (PDF, 2.6 MB) led by the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK found an increase in female cotton farmers, who credit this change with the ability to have greater influence on their households.