Access to good quality non-GMO seed is necessary to meet the needs of the organic agricultural standard whilst delivering on fiber quality and meeting industry specifications. Productivity improvements in organic depend upon healthy fertile soil as well as good quality seed. Avoiding and addressing contamination from non-GMO seed is also key to the resilience and success of the organic cotton market.

Seed & Soils Task Force Key Features

Improving farmers’ access to non-genetically modified (GMO) seed

Organic cotton (and Fairtrade) must be grown with non-GMO seed. Over many years the dependency on agrichemical companies to provide seed has increased. At the same time, agrichemical companies have invested heavily in genetic modification, and patented their GM seed. We are now in a situation where it is more difficult to find non-GM seed (in countries where GM has been introduced).

Global Inventory of Non-GM Cotton Seed

In 2015, the Seed & Soils Task Force released important findings in a new report: Seed Availability For Non-GM Cotton Production. This report is the first global inventory of non-GMO seed and affirms the extent of the seed problem for farmers wishing to grow cotton organically.

Addressing GMO contamination issues for organic farmers

The rapid spread of GM cotton in some countries has led to an increased risk of organic cotton being contaminated, and has reduced biodiversity. GM cotton is dominant in countries such as the USA (95%) and India (85%) (See Farm & Fiber Report for references). More countries are trialling GM cotton, particularly in Africa. This is despite increasingly alarming reports that GM is failing to improve yields or result in fewer pesticide applications and may not be an appropriate technology for small scale farmers in developing countries.

How Does The OCRT Help?

This is a more difficult and complex agenda. Protecting organic cotton from contamination – and consequently protecting the livelihoods of organic producers, and ecological biodiversity – will need to be addressed at both the farm and policy level in terms of zoning, duty of care, etc.

Activities To Date

How Does The OCRT Help?

Carried out by Lanting AgriConsult and Louis Bolk Institute with funding from EILEEN FISHER and Bayer CropScience.

Seed Projects

Seed Guardians, Chetna, India, and Seed & Biodiversity Demonstration Farm, Mecilla, China (funded by Inditex)

Seed Dialogues

A series of short video interviews “Seed Dialogues” were produced in Istanbul in 2013 (sponsored by Inditex) and launched as a pre-event “warm up” to the OCRT 2014 in Portland.

Arun Ambatipudi, Chetna Organic, discusses the ‘Seed Guardians Project’
(a collaboration between Chetna Organic, Inditex & Textile Exchange)

The Seed Guardians Project is training 20 seed custodians, primarily women, to possess the knowledge, skills and ability to lead on the delivery of seed production in their communities. These 20 seed custodians will support 600 farmers in 6 villages, providing advice and ensuring seed security. Seed Guardians are part of a larger scale multi-stakeholder network dedicated to improving seed choice, including seed breeders, producer groups, and other experts.

Edith Lammerts van Bueren, Louis Bolk Institute, discusses the ‘Participatory Breeding Program’, Uganda
(a collaboration between LBI and Agro-Eco)

This project works in the Lango and Teso regions of Uganda, working closely with the NaSARRI Breeding Station and local farmers to identify the main constraints and most desired characteristics of various cottonseed varieties. Trials were carried out at the breeding station and, later, in farmers’ fields, to evaluate the performances of different varieties. This has the dual benefit of empowering farmers by involving them in the research process and ensuring they choose the most appropriate seed variety for their local climate and low-input style of farming. This is especially important in Uganda, which has a ‘one variety’ policy, making it difficult for farmers to change varieties frequently

Dhawal Mane, Pratibha Syntex, discusses ‘Seed Multiplication for Seed Security’
(a collaboration between Pratibha Syntex, CottonConnect & C&A)

The goal of this project is to ensure easy and affordable access to organic, non-GMO cottonseed and also to create more sustainable livelihoods through encouraging the wider growth of organic cotton. Over recent years the project has screened multiple cottonseed varieties to find the one most suited to local conditions – NH-615 – which can now be multiplied and used by farmers wanting to grow cotton organically. Training is also a central element of this project and is used firstly to convince farmers of the many benefits of growing cotton organically and, secondly, to teach them the practical steps required to achieve successful organic production.

Tong Yeung, Mecilla, discusses ‘Agro-ecology Demonstration Plots for Seed Development’
(a collaboration between Mecilla, Inditex & Textile Exchange)

This project uses 3 demonstrations plots as an innovation ground and teaching space for organic cotton production. Researchers have tested over 200 varieties of non-GMO cottonseed to find the 6 highest performing varieties, which will be reproduced and distributed to local farming cooperatives in north-west China. The aim is to provide farmers with genuine organic cottonseed and avoid organic cotton becoming contaminated with GMOs, which has been a serious issue in the past.

Monika Messmer, FiBL – Discusses the ‘Green Cotton Project’, India
(a collaboration between FiBL, bioRe, Chetna Organic and the University of Dharwad)

The Green Cotton Project promotes participatory cotton breeding for organic and resource efficient cropping systems in India. The project decentralizes cotton breeding initiatives in order to safeguard traditional, locally adapted, non-GMO cottonseed varieties – empowering and meeting the needs of organic and low-input smallholders. The project uses an innovative, transdisciplinary approach in which smallholders, breeders, researchers, extensionists, spinning and textile industries are actively involved from the very beginning.

The Green Cotton Project, described above, also features in the fantastic video below produced by FiBL about the use of participatory research to foster innovation in agriculture:

Areas For Future Investment

Regional stakeholder workshops in India, West Africa, and China on securing the supply, and access to, high quality seed and non-GM cultivars. Further increase the synergies between stakeholders and strengthen advocacy in the sector.

Coordinated regional programs to foster seed supply including on farm seed multiplication, and support further on-farm R&D including cultivar evaluation trials, participatory breeding programs and optimizing organic cultivation.

Training and education on innovative organic agricultural practices with a focus on soil fertility and long term farm productivity.

Case studies and information sharing across regions.

[Read more: OCRT-Seed Briefing]

Seed Summit 2016: Seeding & Breeding the Future of Organic Cotton

On 7th October, 2016, Textile Exchange and FiBL jointly hosted an Organic Cotton Seed Summit, with support from the Mercator Foundation Switzerland, following Textile Exchange’s 2016 Conference and OCRT in Hamburg.

The Seed Summit was a continuation of the work of the Seed Task Force and the focus was be on building a resilient future for organic cotton. Click the button below to learn more.

Seed Summit 2016