In Peru organic cotton cultivation started very successfully at the beginning of the 1990s. In the season 1993/94 the country contributed with 17.6% to global organic cotton production. This proportion, however, suffered continuing declines since and has presently reached a rather insignificant 0,5%. Other Latin American countries newer followed Peru’s example; even today Peru is producing more than 90% of all Latin American organic cotton.
Yet, favourable conditions for organic cotton cropping prevail in many countries of Central and South America: tropical or subtropical climate, bright sunshine, fertile soils, smallholder farming culture, well organized cooperatives, market demand, etc. So, what went wrong in the region? Are there any possibilities to revert this trend? These questions have been intriguing me since I started SOCiLA, and it is my personal ambition to contribute to a reversal of the trend.
When I realized that cotton is cultivated on 2,5% of all the arable land of our planet and that 16% of global insecticide consumption is retractable to cotton cultivation (EJF, 2007, The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton), I almost got obsessed with my own initiative.
I moved around quite a bit in search for information on organic cotton, made my first apprenticeship in Peru, visited many conferences in Europe and went a bit familiarized with topics of the cotton value chain in various Latin American countries. However, at an early stage I started to concentrate my efforts on Colombia. That had three main reasons:
- organic cotton was not grown at all yet in Colombia,
- our company, La Siesta, is producing a big share of its hammocks there and
- the country badly needs sustainable development in rural areas after five decades of armed conflict which mainly took place in the countryside
Later I found out that there was also demand for organic cotton in Colombia by others than La Siesta and that tailors, brands and organizations of the fashion sector were already importing or considering imports of organic cotton yarn and organic cotton material to Colombia.
I have been travelling throughout the country, made many presentations and much lobbying efforts at all levels of the entire cotton value chain (from farmer to apparel retailer), interest groups, local officials and central government entities, drafted project proposal and was much praised for this ‘missionary work’. However, I didn’t succeed kicking off experimental projects.
Sponsored by La Siesta we finally carried out a project on our own on five farms on a total of 20 hectares in the Department of Tolima in Colombia. Yields were not quite in accordance with expectations but we managed to produce certified organic cotton, GOTS certified yarn, and GOTS certified hammocks made of the harvested cotton, all within a record project time of one year (PLAOC – Interim Report).
This encourages me to reshape a bit my initiative, take my newly won experiences to other countries and to present SOCiLA with a new homepage.