Successful Completion of Fair Trade Cotton Project

Successful Completion of Fair Trade Cotton Project

The project “Fair Trade Supply Chain Development in India and Nepal” is coming to its successful completion, paving way for a set of actions to make cotton a trendy, effective and sustainable option for livelihood generation, consumption and a better environment.

The project is supported by the European Union. Fair Trade Forum – India, Formaper-Italy, CTM Altromarceto-Italy and Fair Trade Group Nepal are the partners of the project. The project launched in March 2012 is getting concluded formally in the month of February 2012. While assembling for the concluding seminar at Tirupur and in Kathmandu, the partners will discuss the further dissemination and adaption of the Fair Trade Supply Chain model developed under the project in India and Nepal.

The project has already created many visible and sustainable impacts through functional networking created between actors in the farming, extraction, production and consumption of cotton. Above all, the project consortium could respond to one of the long standing demand for ‘Fair Trade – Organic cloth’ from the Fair Trade organisations working on garments on accessories. During the last three years the project team could expand the very partner base into a virtual consortium of farmer group, cotton processing (ginning, spinning, weaving, knitting) and garment making organisations, which agree to follow Fair or Ethical and organic practices.

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One of specialties of the project has been the orientation towards the target groups right from the beginning. During the initial identification of target groups, extensive field visits and research had been conducted to cotton growing area such as Yawatmal, Amravati and Nagpur, Aurangabad and Wardha and Akola in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, which was infamous for farmers’ suicides. Such visits helped to understand the nature of intervention and farmer level networking required to implement the project activities at the ground. A serious of meeting were also organised with many organisations working in the area with similar interest with cotton farmers such as Solidaridad, Chetna Organic, ESAF (Evangelical Social Action Forum), IIRD (Institute of Integrated Rural Development), Vidarbha Organic Farmers Association (VOFA) and the Krushi Vikas Shetkari Audyogik Saha Sanstha (KVSASS).  and Oxfam, were also organised in the initial phase.

The project has followed an inclusive approach while selecting the farmer groups. The groups selected for the training include organic certified groups who are interested to follow Fair Trade, groups who are on the path of conversion to organic and Fair Trade as well as groups who are interested for conversion into Fair Trade organic.  The networking efforts at the farmers’ level has brought Chetna organic, whose cotton produce was already certified by FLO into FTF-I membership. For Chetna it was an opportunity to build up their Fair Trade credentials by expanding their operations to more farmers and cotton processors through the activities planned under ‘Fair Trade Supply Chain Development Project’.

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During the life span of the project, Chetna Organic took active in organic farmer group formation, training and capacity building. IIRD (Institute of Integrated Rural Development), VOFA and KVSASS were the other organisations of which farmers have taken part in the training at farmers’ level.   More than 1192 farmers were trained directly on Fair Trade and Organic practices under the project.

The project helped the farmers with seed selection, preparation of the land for farming, farming methods, documentation as per Fair Trade & organic certification requirements and good practices in handling of the crop.

In June 2011 State level Pre-season training was conducted on Internal Control Systems (ICS) for organic and fair trade certification. Simultaneously follow up visits were also organised to build up capacities of farmers working with the groups in the project consortium in soil fertility management, productivity enhancement, plant protection and management of internal control system, management for organic cultivation and fair trade certification. Training of Trainer program was also orgnaised at the beginning as well as in mid-season to further support the farmers. These trainers extended on the field training to the farmers.

The farmers were also helped in seeds procurement and harvest. Procurement of seed was planned based on estimated area under each cluster prior to the season for advance booking for non-GMO Bunny seed with Nuziveedu Seeds Company, Hyderabad and Padma Seed from ARAS. The seed lots were systematically tested for any possible contamination with GMO seed. After ensuring that no contamination was found, the seeds were distributed to the farmers through self-help groups.

Towards ensuring increase in production in the 2011 cropping season, approximately 60% of the farmers planted hybrid seeds while F2 seeds and varieties were used in 30% and 10% area respectively. Nipping after 90 days of sowing was also done for ensuring higher productivity. Majority of the farmers adopted the practice.

During the cropping diversified cropping systems was followed to ensure food and economic security, improvement of soil fertility and crop protection strategies aiming to prevent pest, disease and weed problems through optimization of the cropping system as a whole. Farmers adopted the cropping system with inter crops such as ‘cotton-red gram- green gram or ‘black gram-cotton-red gram. Soil fertility was also ensured by helping the farmers to prepare biomass, liquid farmyard manure / Amruth pani. Weeding (2-3 times) and harrowing (7-10 times) was also completed according to the need.

Towards managing pests effectively, farmers installed pheromone traps, yellow sticky boards, trap crops and foliar sprays. Soil fertility management was carried out through application of two to three ton compost. Seeds were treated with bio-fertilizers and microbial solutions.

Training on Pre-harvest and quality control was another important step. End of the season training sessions were targeted more at the yield estimation, certification, clean picking and procurement.

Since the project is aimed at ‘Fair Trade ‘ ‘Organic’ cotton, a training on ‘group certification system’ was organised by ‘ECOCERT for the staff of farmer level organisations. The training was helpful to understand the ways to update farmer level records in line with Tracenet system for group certification.

Another interesting example was the ‘trial plots’ prepared under the project towards developing  a package of practices suitable to the specific area with respect to plant population. To demonstrate the standard cultivation practices, cropping systems, pest and disease management practices in cotton, a total number of 3 trail plots have been identified in the villages of Veni, Ekpala and Karli villages in Yavatmal, Amravathi and Akola districts respectively. The Hybrid seed production was also taken up during period in the plots.

The next part was networking with the processing organisations. During this phase the project team could develop partnerships with groups such as Assissi Garments, which has the capacity of ginning, spinning, yarn manufacturing dyeing and garment making. Assissi, whose products were already Fair Trade certified under FLO has later become a member of FTF-I. For FTF-I is it added the dual benefit as the organisation was also certified under the organic certification for its cotton products.

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The support obtained from the regional office of Textiles Committee working under the aegis of Ministry of Textiles, government of India is the other significant achievement obtained during the period.  With collaboration from the textile committee the project team could reach out to many spinning and fabric making SMEs who are interested to procure Fair Trade organic cotton.

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Once the SMEs were identified, a Common Sustainable Management System (CSMS) was introduced to them to ensure that they understand and follow the requirements and systems related to Fair Trade adherence are maintained. The introduction of the system was again based on a demand driven basis in accordance with the individual requirement of the respective SMEs. During the process the individual enterprises and farmers organisations selected were individually contacted for gathering of missing data and aligning to the objectives.

At the front of cotton processing and garment production, five companies were audited in Tirupur with the objective to verify their compliance versus Fair Trade practices, organic credentials, tractability  CSR and Environment. Generally companies assessed had a good behaviour and were open to audit team and cooperating to help to seek objective evidences.  Individual technical upgrade plans were carried out specifically for each targeted SME, whereas their implementation, according to original timelines was also planned as an outcome of the audit.

As a precursor to the CSMS implementation, a Training of Trainers on fair trade quality and certification was organised for the potential trainers from India and Nepal at Kathmandu in October 2012. The certification systems which help in evolving and implementation of CSMS such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, SA8000 and Fair Trade certification systems were covered in the meaning. Key performance indicators and specific audit systems related to cotton supply chain were also discussed in the meeting.

The trainings were also helpful for FTF-I and Fair Trade group Nepal as well, the national networks to built up their capacities towards addressing the Fair Trade adherence requirements related cotton while working on implementing CSMS among SMEs.

The procurement oriented networking developed under the project hints to the commercial viability of model created by the project. In May 2011 CTM Altromercato placed an initial order with Assisi group for a collection of textile products, which are imported to Italy for the collection spring-summer 2012 and autumn/winter 2012. Clearly the cotton was not yet the one provided by Chetna. Such initial commercial contacts were extremely useful in order to establish direct connection and trusted relationships.

In December 2011 a delegation consists of representatives from Chetna and IIRD visited the main SMEs involved in the supply chain in Tirupur, including Assisi Group. The visit was aimed at contacting prospective buyers and to provide the cotton produced in the 2011 season for laboratory and quality checks. The business meeting were very fruitful, the cotton samples brought by Chetna  (Padma newly-introduced quality) was analyzed at Assisi laboratories and assessed as high quality. For this specific reason the partners decided to prioritize the establishment of the supply chain by   strengthening of relations between Chetna and Assisi through procurement of high cotton variety, which had already been available in big quantities from the Orissa region. This has come into effect in the month of February 2012 where a second commercial order of  90 bales  of fair trade cotton for the autumn – winter  2102 collection of CTM. The consortium members have committed to further follow up with the 2012 harvest to supply the Padma variety of cotton which should come in very high quality  in the event of potential orders from buying organisations.

Several other SMEs are involved in the project were also encouraged to explore business networking by using the platform of the project.  Armstrong Spinning mill, selling yarn, which has been deeply involved in the project, got a chance to know about Chetna and IIRD. As a result procurement from Chetna is taking place now. Subsequently a UK based ethical buyer is currently negotiating with Armstrong for a potential order.

BKS, a textile producing company which buys yarn from Armstrong and sells fabric has already received an order from a FTF-I member organization called IMEX for supply of fabric. SFG, another fabric producing company, is also buying yarn from Armstrong. Hence the efforts are on to connect FTF-I and Fair Trade Group Nepal members who are in need of Fair Trade fabric is also undergoing.

One of the greatest achievements that the project could reach so far is the internalization effort that was made towards building up supply chain. Indeed from the networking point of view it’s important to underline that the two farmers organisation COFA (Chetna)  IIRD and the Assisi group in Tirupur have already acquired the status of partnership within Fair Trade Forum – India. It is particularly important to underline this aspect because paved way to internalize the whole process of production among the major stakeholders and at same time strengthen the role of FTF-I as organisation. Two other key enterprises, namely BKS and SFG are currently getting ready to apply for FTFI membership.

FTF-I members who are producing fabric-based products were provided special support to get benefited from the project through expert led orientation about market trends in Italy and through making the ‘Fair Trade Organic fabric available

Marina Spadafora, Creative designer of CTM Altromercato organised a workshop on Fashion Basics, Quality of Fashion and Spring Summer trends 2014 at IIC New Delhi to provide support for FTF-I members. She also shared some of the technical handbooks which can be refered by Fair Trade artisans. Eighteen participants including designers and marketing personnel from Indian Fair Trade organisations attended the meeting.The workshop was also helpful to discuss the future requirement of design support by FTF-I members.

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Towards understanding the latest trends in the Italian market and to explore further collaboration with CTM Altromercato, the Executive Director and Director-Programs of FTF-I visited Italy in November 2012. The team visited Milan Chamber of Commerce, CTM office in Verona, CTM shops in Rome and most importantly Rho Fair in Milan. The visit also helped the FTF-I team to understand latest trends in markets and newer ways of international marketing.

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Towards strengthening the market oriented networking under the project a team from FTF-I visited six Fair Trade organisations in Nepal in November 2012. The organisations visited include New Saddle, Association of Craft Producers, Sana Hastkala, Manushi and Mahaghuti. The visit was helpful to understand the requirements of the organisations related to Fair Trade cotton.

One of the greatest achievement that the project could reach so far relies in the internalization effort that was made towards the main counterpart enterprises. Indeed from the networking point of view it’s important to underline that the two farmers organisation  COFA (Chetna)  IIRD and the Assisi group in Tirupur have already acquired the status of partnership within Fairtrade Forum India. It is particularly important to underline this aspect because allows to internalize the whole process of production among the major stakeholders and at same time strengthen the role of FTF-I as organisation. Two other key enterprises, namely BKS and SFG are currently getting ready to apply for FTFI membership. The project also eventually initiated formation of an extended network for ‘Fair Trade organic cotton’ which is capable of benefiting the farmers, SME and Fair Trade groups, which produces fabric based Fair Trade products in India and Nepal.

For consumers the project offers a better model, which offers ‘Fair Trade Organic’ product. For Fair Trade producer groups, it offers potential sources for smooth supply of Fair Trade fabric. For farmers it offers more holistic approach of farming.