PAN UK's Wear Organic project is part of PAN UK's cotton programme, which has been running since 1994. It is a multi-faceted project aiming to:
1) Raise awareness of organic cotton in the United Kingdom, Europe and Africa as benefiting the environment, livelihoods, and health of poor farmers in developing countries
2) To ensure that sufficient information is available to consumers, businesses, fashion colleges, environment and development NGOs and civil society groups to stimulate demand for more sustainable cotton production.
3) Contribute to increasing the market for organic cotton in the UK and other European Countries, in particular Ireland and France.
The PAN UK Wear Organic project aims to broaden the appeal of organic cotton to consumer groups, NGOs and businesses in the UK by providing educational materials and information, and by campaigning around issues and problems arising from conventional cotton.. This will be done in close collaboration with both African and other PAN partners, in particular PAN Africa, PAN Germany, OBEPAB (Benin) and ENDA pronat (Senegal).
The project aims to establish firmly in the minds of consumers the real costs of cotton, and the reality behind the tangled threads that weave the cotton supply chain. The difficult parts are:
- to persuade consumers that their decisions can positively affect the health and livelihoods of small-scale farmers and the environment, including biodiversity and natural resources such as soil and water.
- that any price increases are a price worth paying, in that they (the consumers) benefit also over the long term. A third element here is to place the issue of negative externalities in the limelight, in ways that can be explained to consumers and other actors.
The need to scale up
Our African partners are working in some of the poorest African countries, where the World Bank Development Report (2000) estimated numbers below the poverty line to be between 25% and 33%. In the conventional cotton growing systems in these countries, farmers are expected to use some of the most hazardous pesticides available.
The key problem emerging from our research is not the feasibility of organic cotton, but the lack of linkages between project work in country and international markets, and thus the need to stimulate interest and demand at the other end of the value chain for cotton, in consumer markets in developed countries, while continuing to support ongoing work, and pilot 'learning' projects in new areas. Large scale transition to organic and sustainable cotton production systems will only however be possible when market demand is there, and it is possible to support large scale conversion of production systems over a period of time ranging from 3 to 10 years, depending on local agro-ecological conditions. Meanwhile, further research needs to address the need to ensure that organic systems are also working in sustainable ways by ensuring the preservation of agrobiodiversity and soil fertility.
Organic cotton offers an alternative. This development education project will continue to raise awareness of key stakeholders and encourage a market for organic cotton - a crop that has potential to assist many resource poor farmers.