Cotton

Following the thread

Located in the Northeast of Brazil, the state of Ceará has vast wealth inequalities, fragile soils and a tendency towards drought. In contrast to the predominant monoculture farming system, a group of small producers grow cotton and food plants under agro-ecology principals which ban agro-chemicals and pesticides.

For those small-scale farmers (1 hectare of land on average), farming development goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection.

Veja buys cotton from 320 families who live from organic farming. Respecting fair trade rules. This cotton is spun then weaved into canvas for Veja sneakers and accessories.

An economy at the right scale

For the past seven years, Veja has been working with ADEC (Associação de Desenvolvimento Educacional e Cultural) – an association of growers located in Tauá, North-east Brazil.

Organized into an association, the producers pool their harvests in the same warehouse and by working together, minimise cotton transformation costs.

Working directly with ADEC has allowed Veja to establish a seamless, human-based business model that avoids middlemen and makes sure that reasonable profits go directly to the producers themselves.

On average, each member of ADEC owns a farm of about 1 hectare and produces 150 kg of seed cotton annually.

The seed cotton is bought by ADEC and then processed into cotton lint. A mutually agreed price for the lint has been determined. In 2013, the price is 2,45 EUR/kg (certified organic cotton), 2,04 EUR/Kg (cotton in conversion) which is 65% superior to the market price – NYBOT index. An additional premium of 0,5 EUR is paid to the producers for each kilo of cotton. This price has been worked out acknowledging the expenses incurred in agroecological farming and a decent revenue for the producers.

A fair trade premium is paid to the association at the end of the harvest. This premium is usually used collectively to improve the producers’ general standard of living. Between 2007 and 2009 the premium was used to pay for the official certification of the organic cotton and fair trade process.

Purchase of cotton lint by Veja :

  • 2005 : 3 metric ton
  • 2006 : 7 metric ton
  • 2007 : 13 metric ton
  • 2008 : 18 metric ton
  • 2009 : 13 metric ton
  • 2011 : 25 metric ton
  • 2012 : 6 metric ton
  • 2013 : 13,5 metric ton (estimation)

Years 2012 & 2013 faced a substantial dryness.

Agroecology: another type of Cotton?

Another cotton is possible: one without pesticide, without GMO or fertilizers, and founded on rotation farming and contour planting.

ESPLAR – a Brazilian NGO based in Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará – provides technical support to the organic cotton farmers and advises them in the field, helping them foster the agro-ecological paradigm.

The agricultural engineers of ESPLAR give support and help the farmers to organise and protect their harvests. By introducing neem trees, for instance, they have created a natural protection for the cotton plants. The oil extracted from the neem fruits creates a natural repulsive to insects that attack the cotton.

Mixed farming provides on-going food for the cotton growers and preserves the fragile soils. In the fields, cotton is planted beside the daily diet of the farmers – corn, sesame seeds and beans.

More and more farmers of the region are now converting from their traditional farming to agroecology. They see it as a way to preserve the soil but also to protect their own health. This new farming method shields them from the toxic substances of pesticides.

Since 2011, the PDHC (projeto Dom Helder Camara), inspires itself with the practices established by Veja, Esplar & Adec and is accompanying new associations of producers in the Nordeste. The PDHC aims to broadcast widely this agroecology model.

Agroecology is gaining momentum in the Nordeast region. This pioneering project is paving the way for more initiatives that are beginning to emerge.

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