Eight recommendations for sustainable cotton industry
Sustaining cotton's place in the world requires taking steps to assure that the social, environmental, and economic aspects of cotton production are sustainable in each country.
Mr. Wallace Darnielle, President and CEO of Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, presented a report on sustainability of cotton production. Cotton removes the equivalent of about 7 million cars' carbon dioxide emissions from the air each year through sequestration of carbon into the plant and its products, and it uses less than 3% of all agricultural water consumption globally. Contrary to claims made by some, cotton accounted for 6.8% of world pesticide use in 2008, and cotton production has reduced insecticide active ingredient use by 23% globally since 1996, leading to a 28% decrease in environmental impact.
U.S. cotton producers use 45% less water to grow a kilogram of cotton today than 25 years ago. Conservation tillage has greatly reduced soil erosion. Insecticide applications declined by 50% since 1996, helped by the use of biotechnology and other modern technologies. In Texas, the cotton industry sustains about 25,000 direct jobs, and many more in supporting industries and trades.
All jobs comply with minimum wages and social benefits mandated by local laws. In order to support employment in rural areas globally, production of cotton and other natural fibers should be promoted rather than production of man-made fibers, which are produced in capital-intensive industries dependent on non-renewable resources.
Economic sustainability of cotton production is constrained by farm prices and the costs of production, and demand at the retail level. Biotechnology has improved yields and qualities, but advances in drought and salt tolerance varieties and in nutrient absorption will further improve the economic sustainability of cotton production. On the demand side, promotional efforts of cotton should be upscaled worldwide to improve the economic sustainability of cotton production.
Mr. Allan Williams, Chair of the Expert Panel on the Social, Environmental and Economic Performance of Cotton Production (SEEP), presented a report on pesticide use in Australia, Brazil, India, Turkey and the USA. SEEP commissioned Alterra, a research group from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, to conduct the analysis of pesticide use in the selected countries. SEEP has also prepared an interpretive summary of the study and four separate reports on the factors influencing the use of pesticides in cotton in Australia, Brazil, India and the U.S.A. All reports are freely available on the ICAC website.
The ICAC and the FAO Global IPM Facility provided the financial support to conduct the study. The study reports on changes in the use pattern regarding total volume applied, and the type of pesticide applied, and therefore on changes in the hazard profile of pesticides used in cotton over the period studied, with regard to human health and the environment.