Fair Trade Cotton

05/24/2009 - 8:22 AM

When we arrived in Hyderabad, the clean, modern airport and absence of ancient taxis spewing diesel exhaust signaled that we had arrived in a much more developed city.

Hyderabad is home to a thriving IT sector, several major pharmaceutical companies and the second largest movie studio in India. We are here because Zameen and Chetna, two organizations that support Fair Trade cotton farmers, are based in Hyderabad.

Zameen works with cotton farmers in two regions: the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra and the Adilabad region in Andhra Pradesh. These regions each have their own unique challenges, but all of them stem from the power imbalance in the global trade system that Fair Trade helps to address.

Zameen targeted Vidarbha because of the high rate of farmer suicides in this region. It is common for small farmers to borrow money at extortionary rates from money lenders to buy seeds, pesticides and other inputs. If the crop fails or the market price for cotton is low, these farmers then have no way to repay the loan. Burdened by debt and unable to support their families, some farmers go so far as to commit suicide; often by drinking the pesticides they had to borrow money to buy.

By working with Zameen and participating in the Fair Trade system, farmers are guaranteed a fair price for their crop, learn how to use organic farming methods (so they no longer have to buy pesticides) and are able to secure low interest loans from banks. Since Zameen started operations in 2006, there has not been one suicide among the 5,000 farmers it works with.

We had such a good dialogue going with Satish, Emily and Paul from Zameen, we decided to continue it over a dinner of biryani and other local specialties.


The next day, we started early and drove about 3 hours to Karim Nagar to visit two of the farmer Self Help Groups (SHGs) that are a part of the Chetna project. Chetna provides on-the-ground technical and operational support to farmers through Chetna Organic Farmers Association (COFA).


Ram Krishna from COFA introduced us the farmers in the Dhana Lakshmi SHG, in the village of Mylaran.


Shereda, the president of Dhana Lakshmi, explained that as well as growing cotton, Dhana Lakshmi grows mango and tamarind trees to sell, maize, pulses, rice and vegetables for their own consumption and the domestic market, and fast growing plants for biomass so that they can create their own compost.


Dhana Lakshmi is part of a cooperative that used Fair Trade Social Premiums to buy land, on which they are constructing a warehouse for their cotton. The warehouse will hold 500-600 tons of cotton and will be completed in time to store this year’s harvest.


In previous years, the cooperative had to lease storage space, but the local warehouse is small, so farmers had to store some of the cotton in their homes. This is a fire hazard and creates a high risk of pest contamination. The new warehouse will provide a safe place to store the cotton, which will allow them to hold a portion of the crop until the off season when cotton will fetch a higher price.

05/24/2009 - 8:22 AM
05/24/2009 - 8:22 AM