WCOC09: Creating space for dialogue and exchange

The World Congress on Organic Cotton kicked off this morning with its opening session. Three speakers provided food for thoughts and framed the issues that this congress will address in the coming days.

Melchior Lengsfeld form Helvetas recalled the work his organisation is doing on organic cotton and fair trade. Helvetas is committed already for several years in promoting sustainable management of natural resources.  It now supports about 50000 farmers and families in producing and trading organic cotton. In his views, it is clear that nobody can promote and manage organic and fair trade cotton all alone; it’s only possible to do that by building true partnerships and working together along the value chain to make it sustainable. Farmers, processors, traders, retailers have different interests, hence it’s important to create spaces to discuss openly about the challenges ahead and understand each others. This congress aims at providing such opportunity for dialogue and exchange.
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Peter Tschannen from Remei AG offered the perspective of a manufacture that recently switched all production to organic textile.  For Peter ‘organic’ has been a choice of life for many years now, and in the 1990s together with Patrick Hohmann started a project with cotton producers in India. Their vision is to improve the leaving conditions of small farmers, integrate them in the value chain and make consumers aware of the issues of rural development and agriculture in developing countries. What started almost as an hobby is now a leading organization in the sector, described as a successful business model.

Today, organic cotton constitute almost 55% of all cotton consumption. Organic clothing has becoming mainstreamed,  but a lot of challenges are still very much present.
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To start with, farmers need training and education; besides, they are very vulnerable and affected by the current economic crisis. Besides, prices have to be decent and still in line with the market. All this requires patience and the creation of partnerships among producers, manufacturers and retailers all willing to work in a long term perspective and not keen on “quick money.” Further, we need to broad the perspective and not think only about cotton, but also about ecology and the all supply and production chain.

In this perspective, the WCOC 2009 provides a great opportunity to make the different stakeholders aware of the needs and enormous possibilities that are opening up in the sector; it’s the ideal platform to “share views and opinions and learn from each others.”

Lastly, David Bannell from Organic Exchange elaborated on the issues of broadening the perspective and moving the discourse from organic cotton to sustainable textile. Brands have power and decisions on all aspects of value change; they don’t see difference between cotton and other fibers, they are just interested in the product. Therefore, it’s crucial to talk now about sustainable textile, and to clearly define what we mean with it. Further, he recalled the importance of working together along the all value chain, advocating for more collaboration and less competition

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