Fairtrade Cotton in India

Summit Club member and 2015 Fairtrade Supporter of the Year, Tricia Cutforth, shares her recent experience to India to explore the Fairtrade Cotton supply chain.

As a passionate supporter of the fair trade movement, my recent visit to India to see Fairtrade cotton supply chains in action unquestionably deepened my commitment to the cause and opened my eyes to the power of buying a single t-shirt.

Summit Club member and 2015 Fairtrade Supporter of the Year, Tricia Cutforth

Before setting off on my journey, I visited the local Kathmandu store in Whangarei, to get kitted out with a couple of their Fairtrade Certified cotton t-shirts. Kathmandu source their Fairtrade and organic cotton from the Pratibha-Vasudha cotton project in the Madhya Pradesh region of central India. My journey involved tracing the t-shirt back to its source and witnessing the processes that go into making each garment.

Throughout my trip, I saw many interesting sights, witnessed fascinating processes and learned about the extraordinary projects happening on the ground. Ultimately, it was the people I met along the cotton supply chain that will resonate in my memory.

Meet Rakesh Agrahari, the general manager of Pratibha-Vasudha cotton project. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by his warm hospitality as he began telling me about the amazing work being done through the project.

His passion for using organic and natural products to enhance production was palpable, as he explained how farmers are encouraged to use natural waste products like cow dung, plant leaves, and compost to feed the budding cotton crops.

Rakesh is eager to empower neighbouring local farmers to follow Pratibha-Vasudha’s approach and make the transition to using organic practices. The Pratibha-Vasudha facility operates a training centre for local farmers, so they can learn about making their own organic fertiliser, techniques of companion planting and crop management.

2015 Fairtrade Supporter of the Year, Tricia Cutforth
2015 Fairtrade Supporter of the Year, Tricia Cutforth

After exploring the cotton fields near the Vasudha facility, Rakesh and I visited the local school, which is supported by Fairtrade Premium investments. We were greeted by MJ Thomas, the principal of Vasudha Vidya Vihar, who spoke of the schools focus on discipline, English-language learning and computer studies. We were treated to an assembly of students, who welcomed us with a ceremony that included drumming, speeches and reading short stories.

Later that day, at the nearby village of Karhi, I met a group of local women involved in Pratibha-Vasudha’s Fairtrade Premium-funded sewing project (or ‘stitching project', as the locals call it). The project is aimed at empowering women in the community to work towards self-employment and the development of independent skills-based careers.

They learn how to sew clothing items like 'princess blouses' and bodices which are worn under saris. I sat down at the treadle sewing machine and, while attempting to sew in a straight line, began chatting to Preeti Bhupendra who quickly displayed her expert sewing skills while telling me about the project.

Preeti’s enthusiasm was inspiring, and I left the community centre feeling motivated to share the story of this sewing project with Fairtrade consumers in New Zealand.

Now I am back home, it’s clear my experience meeting cotton farmers in India has further added to my passion for fair trade, and instilled an even greater dedication to spreading the word about the positive impacts for farmers. Every representative I met along the supply chain had the same enthusiasm for the Fairtrade system, and the same unified message to give to consumers: every Fairtrade purchase counts!

Every time I pull on my Kathmandu Fairtrade Certified organic cotton t-shirt, I think of the farmers who tended the crops, the women who harvested the cotton, and the workers who sorted the cotton to be milled before it was processed and sewn to become the garments we wear today in New Zealand.

Through Fairtrade, consumers can support these farmers and workers to become more valued members of the supply chain. It just shows how powerful a single Fairtrade Certified cotton t-shirt can be."