Revolution in the Organic Cotton Farming Industry

Chetna Organic Co-op Gives Its Organic Indian Cotton Farmer-Owners Deeper Roots

A farmer-owner harvesting organic cotton for the Chetna Organic co-op. A growing number of Indian women are now cotton farmers, an industry historically dominated by the country’s men.
Photo courtesy of Chetna Organic

Organic cotton farming is a growing field, and most notably in India it is not only an environmental improvement but a cultural one as well. More clothing brands are buying organic cotton from India, the world’s largest producer. However, many are buying from brokers who can exploit farmers and take unfair commissions.

Chetna Organic’s co-op model directly connects farmers and manufacturers, which prevents exploitation in the supply chain. Each farmer is a shareholder in the company, and payments go directly to the farmer’s bank account, not to an intermediary.

Both Rajlakshmi Mills and Mandala Apparels, two companies dedicated to employee engagement, ethical fashion and organic cotton, source from Chetna Organic, which is based in Hyderabad and consists of almost 9,500 organic Indian cotton farmers, most of whom are also fair trade. The majority of India’s cotton is now grown from genetically modified seeds, and seeds from the resulting plants can’t be harvested and replanted the way traditional varieties could be. As a result, farmers have been stuck in a cycle of purchasing expensive seeds every season, a practice that has caused farmers to take on unmanageable amounts of debt and has been linked to a rise in farmer suicides.

Organic cotton is not genetically modified, and its seeds are, generally, viable and can be planted year after year.
Rajlakshmi Mills is one of Chetna’s largest customers — it buys about 40 percent of the co-op’s cotton and Chetna’s farmers own a 10 percent stake in Rajlakshmi Mills.

“I saw things at an early age that have made me realize that organic is the better option. I realized that was the right thing to do,” Rajlakshmi’s owner, Rajat Jaipuria, says.

Mandala’s Anjali Schiavina’s support for Chetna has also propelled a shift in the way cotton is grown: Women, not just men, now grow organic cotton in India, in the states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra — unusual in India where men dominate farming. She’s supported more than 70 farmers, the majority of whom are women, she says.

This article originally appeared as part of Ethical Fashion Benefits from Employee Engagement in the Summer 2016 issue of B Magazine.