Ugandan organic cotton farmers don’t grow organic cotton in order to clothe babies in wealthy Western countries, as reported by Alex Perry in TIME Magazine on June 10. They choose to farm organic cotton in order to feed and clothe their own babies. This is consistent within other developing countries where over 220,000 farmers grow organic cotton to support themselves and over 850,000 other people who depend on them. The fact that Ugandan organic cotton farmers would coalesce, of their own accord, to attempt to find alternatives to the spraying of DDT in their own homes, was to protect their very livelihood. That’s an extremely rational approach for anyone struggling to make a living in one of the world’s most poverty and disease-stricken areas.
Many African farmers and their supporters (as well as hundreds of thousands of farmers in other developing countries worldwide) believe in the economic development potential of organic cotton agriculture because it is an accepted and accessible model for introducing farmers to best practices in cotton farming (soil fertility, water management, pest management, etc.). Because organic cotton inputs can be accessible and affordable to farmers (compared to some conventional inputs), organic cotton has been introduced in to many developing countries as a viable means of economic development for those living in extreme poverty, with Uganda as an example. Because organic is grounded in fundamentally strong farming practices (that have application beyond organic), it has the potential to help farming families move out of extreme poverty and help contribute to their food security (organic cotton farming traditionally includes growing rotation crops that contribute to soil fertility and pest management, and that produce food crops for local consumption). Ugandan farmers are actively engaged in organic cotton because it provides these multiple benefits and can connect them to markets on the African continent and worldwide.
In a country ravaged by malaria with its crippling impacts on economic development, organic cotton can provide an accessible option for helping Ugandan farming communities feed themselves and begin to move out of extreme poverty. Why? Because organic cotton farming helps develop skills, abilities, and products viable in today's marketplace, whether local (Ugandan), regional (Africa), and/or international.
We would look forward to involvement in a coordinated effort between the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, other funders active in the fight against malaria, and concerned entities within developing countries to better address and implement strategies for effective disease eradication, while ensuring farming communities can continue to produce organic cotton and food, where farmers and their communities choose to do so.
David Bennell, Executive Director