Interview with Ms La Rhea Pepper

Ms La Rhea Pepper
Ms La Rhea Pepper
Senior Director
Organic Exchange
Organic Exchange

So what is general view of worldwide cotton industry, today?

The overall (conventional) cotton industry continues to face a variety of challenges. While improvements have been made over the past 5 years in the reduction of pesticides, cotton remains one of the largest users of petroleum based fertilizers as well as pesticide utilization. In addition, the current pricing structure does not address the real costs of the production of cotton creating, in many instances poverty in many of the rural communities which grow cotton. Other problems involving child labor and other social issues are still present as well. Genetically Modified Cotton has been widely adopted in many cotton production areas, and is thought by some to be the answer to increased environmental benefits (reduction of pesticides) has yet to deliver long term, sustainable benefits. Recent studies and information now available are indicating that both weeds and pests are becoming resistant to the technology.

Organic production systems provide a holistic approach to the conservation and preservation of resources while protecting bio-diversity, increasing soil health, offering greater food security in regions. Organic cotton production offers the benefits in production but also access to a market where fair and sustainable prices are encouraged and promoted with brands and consumers.

What market share goes to Organic cotton segment in this cotton world?

Organic Cotton is still a small, but growing percentage – a little less than 1%.

What movements do you see in Organic cotton market say in terms of level of education, level of awareness or preferences amongst manufacturers?

Over the past 5 years, we have seen brands and retailers in key markets commit to organic cotton programs as a part of the sustainability initiatives. We work with not only these leading brands and retailers, but also their supply chains to support strategic planning, creating stronger commitments and clear market signals and communication in the supply chain – in order to create “value chains”.

Can you please share your reading regarding countries- manufacturers of which bear good level of awareness and are particular on using Organic cotton in their production?

There are now over 22 countries growing organic cotton, and a number of countries that are also working to leverage that production and create strong lines of organic cotton products – there are several countries in Africa – South Africa; Uganda; Turkey; India, China, the US and several countries in Latin America – Peru, Paraguay and Brazil are growing organic cotton and are able to produce products. In addition other countries are purchasing cotton from these growing regions and creating high quality products as well – mills in Korea, Thailand and in Europe.

Similarly, which countries have good potential of becoming competent growers of organic cotton?

At the present time, organic cotton is being grown in 22 countries: Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Mail, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, USA and Zambia. Argentina has also begun a conversion project to organic. All of these regions are growing organic cotton “competently”; however, one consistent challenge in every production region is the commitment of long term markets that are willing to pay a fair and sustainable price to the farmer. In addition, there are always challenges in every production area, that, in many instances vary from year to year with weather conditions, which impact both yield and quality of fiber. Organic production is a production system by design and not by default, so certainly where there have been additional investments in training and development for farmers in areas of soil fertility and pest management and ways to harvest that protect the quality of the fiber, we are seeing programs and projects that are growing in a stable and consistent manner.

So, what will the future bring?

The world of organic cotton is full of bright, hard working and long established pioneers and idealists, those who shaped the initial vision of organic cotton as a solution to the severe problems of conventional cotton, who helped set organic cotton on its journey from niche to the mainstream. The organic cotton industry is at a point where it has to choose how to re-commit to the values that drove it in the first place, and to making a strong place for itself in a dynamic and challenging market. Crises lead to reconstruction and innovation, and the difficult year we have just faced is leading our industry to do just this. Whilst challenges are there, the future remains bright.

Published on: 15/03/2010

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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