Hi, I’m Hannah Evans, Managing Director of organic baby and kids clothing brand Piccalilly. We make lovely little clothing for lovely little people made from the softest organic cotton and manufactured to the highest ethical standards. I’ve just come to the end of a 3 week trip visiting suppliers in India, something I’ve done every year since starting the brand in 2006 and a role I personally take responsibility for. During my current visit to India general elections have been taking place and a story close to our hearts here at Piccalilly has been covered in the news on a daily basis. The coverage of the varying plights of Indian farmers are a hot topic and reports suggest that one suicide takes place every half an hour with farmers trapped in high costs and high risks, dependent on agro chemical companies and spiralling debt. In a country where 70% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood and where farmers are more likely to kill themselves than the rest of the population parties are tapping in to the frustrations felt by this community as 40% of farmers wish to leave the industry and try to send at least one person from their family to work in the city.

Chetna Cotton Farmer

Here at Piccalilly we take the interests of cotton farmers very seriously and have chosen to work with a 100% transparent supply chain throughout our clothing manufacturing. I personally have taken time out of day to day business to visit the entire supply chain, from field through to factory to see for myself what conditions are like and meet the makers at all stages of manufacturing. Our organic cotton is sourced through Chetna Organic, an initiative that works towards reducing the suicide rates within farming communities here in India. The Piccalilly brand has worked with Chetna Organic since 2006 and our main manufacturing partner is closely involved in the project and gave the farmers a share in the factory too!

But what’s so bad about conventional cotton farming?

Conventional cotton producers in India, especially those with ‘marginal’ farms of less than one acre, are often caught in a vicious cycle of debt to buy expensive chemical pesticides and fertilizers and global market price fluctuations. Many Indian farmers see no solution for their problems.

  • Environmental: The use of nasty chemical pesticides and fertilizers causes a wealth of damage to the local environment including a reduction in biodiversity, disrupted ecosystems, and contaminated water supplies. Worse still, pests exposed to synthetic pesticides build up a resistance to them. So each year, farmers have to buy and use more pesticides to grow the same amount of cotton – increasing the annual damage to the environment.
  • Debt: As pests build resistance to chemicals, farmers borrow money to buy more chemicals and the result is less profit from their crop. This spiral gets repeated and the debt increases. In parts of India agricultural chemicals take up 60% of the farmer’s production budget. In Maharashtra alone, the government estimates that over 1,000 farmers have committed suicide since 2001 because they were irrevocably in debt.
  • Health: Many chemicals used in cotton farming are acutely toxic. At least three of them are in the “dirty dozen” – so dangerous that 120 countries agreed at a UNEP conference in 2001 to ban them. So far this hasn’t happened. The World Trade Organisation estimates 20,000 deaths and three million chronic health problems each year are the result of the use of agricultural pesticides in developing countries.

If that wasn’t enough, conventional cotton farming also uses vast amounts of precious water.

So, what is Chetna Organic?

Chetna Cotton WorkerChetna Organic works with small and marginal farmers in India to reduce poverty and improve their livelihood options by making farming a sustainable and profitable occupation.

By working with farmers to enable them to convert from conventional farming to organic farming there brings about many benefits. By minimizing the need for chemical inputs the damage to health and the environment is limited. Organic is a more sustainable method of farming than conventional techniques and biodiversity is promoted. Intensive farming is said to destroy the fertility of the land but with organic farming and sustainable crop rotations, soil health is improved. As well as the benefits to the farmers organic cotton doesn’t contain the cocktail of chemicals present in conventional cotton and the result is a softer, healthier cotton less likely to trigger allergies.

The project works in highly underdeveloped areas of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. These districts are rated as some of the country’s most backward districts. Chetna is present in these regions and works to improve the livelihood of small farming households in India through making their farming systems more sustainable and more profitable.

The Chetna Organic project has grown from reaching 234 farmers in 2004 to a membership base of over 15,000 + farmers today. From a small project, it has developed into a large-scale independent organization and several European clothing labels, including Piccalilly, procure organic cotton from Chetna.

What are the main benefits provided through the Chetna programme?

  • A premium price – Organic cotton receives a premium over and above the market price. This premium is very important for a small farmer whose income is just sufficient to feed his/her family with one meal.
  • Low investment – Organic farming does not require a high capital investment, therefore in cases of natural disasters, pest or disease attack, and irregular rainfall, when there is a crop failure, small farmers practicing organic farming have to suffer less as their investments are lower.
  • A higher return – Compared to conventional cotton there is a higher return on investment for farmers.
  • Creating assets – The money which is received as a premium is used for creating assets for the farmer groups thereby fulfilling the “Gandhian concept of local Self-Sustainability”. The farmers of our various cooperatives have built storage warehouses, water treatment plants, bio fertilizer units, tractors, rice processing units and much more.

Piccalilly Managing Director, Hannah EvansHere at Piccalilly we’re very proud of our supply chain and created our own photographic exhibition ‘Fair Trade in the Frame – Meet the Makers’. We took photographer Mark Ingram on a road trip right the way back to the start of our supply chain working our way back to the factory. Here’s the result and some incredible people who work so hard to make our organic cotton clothing ranges.

COPYRIGHT 2014 – All images used in this article are owned by Piccalilly Limited