Cotton, a Fabric that Sustains over 100 Million Families Worldwide


Close-up of two hands picking cotton.

Picking cotton in a farmer field school in Mali where FAO developed a programme of pesticide risk reduction and sustainable production. PHOTO:©FAO/Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

7 October 2021 (United Nations)* — Cotton is one of the most common fabrics in our wardrobes. It is comfortable, hypoallergenic, breathable and durable.

But cotton represents so much more than just a commodity. This natural fabric is a life-changing product worldwide that sustains 28.67 million growers and benefits over 100 million families across 75 countries in 5 continents.

This means that, behind any cotton clothing, following back its trade chain, there is a personal story.

It is true that cotton is really important to developed economies, but for least-developed and developing countries, it is a safety-net.

Cotton is a major source of livelihoods and incomes for many rural smallholders and laborers, including women, providing employment and income to some of the poorest rural areas in the world.

This first official UN World Cotton Day, the United Nations wants to raise visibility of the cotton sector and awareness of the critical role that it plays in economic development, international trade and poverty alleviation. The observance also aims to highlight the importance of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

A resilient and multipurpose product

This durable, versatile and naturally organic fabric is made from the white, fluffy fibres around the seeds of cotton plants. As a crop resistant to climatic changes, it can be planted in dry and arid zones.

Cotton occupies just 2.1% of the world’s arable land, yet it meets 27% of the world’s textile needs. Almost nothing from cotton is wasted. It is used in textiles, animal feed, edible oils, cosmetics or fuel, among other uses.

Plant of Cotton

World Cotton Day, an idea that started thanks to the “Cotton Four”

The initiative of World Cotton Day was born in 2019, when four cotton producers in sub-Saharan Africa– Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, known as the Cotton Four -proposed the World Trade Organization a World Cotton Day celebration on October 7.

During 2 consecutive years, the date offered an opportunity to share knowledge and showcase cotton-related activities.

Now that the United Nations has officially recognized this World Cotton Day, this great opportunity creates awareness of the need of market access for cotton and cotton-related products from least developed countries, fosters sustainable trade policies and enables developing countries to benefit more from every step of the cotton value chain.

UN agencies have worked years towards this mission. For instance, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have helped C-4 to optimize production and improve local processing capacity, as well as to discuss the trade reforms needed to address high trade barriers and inequalities for cotton producers in developing countries. These efforts date back to 2003 through the Cotton Initiative.

Another UN agency, FAO, has long offered developing countries technical and policy support for boosting productivity and creating more opportunities in the cotton value chain.

As an example, the +Cotton project, a cooperation initiative with Brazil (another leader in the industry) that helps Latin American producers to introduce innovative farming methods.

Let’s keep working on offering the assistance to the cotton sector in developing countries to keep increasing productivity, investment and bring innovation and sustainable standards to increase the benefits of the cotton sector worldwide.

Did you know?

  • A single tonne of cotton provides year-round employment for 5 people on average, often in some of the most impoverished regions.
  • Cotton-based filaments are appealing to 3D printers because they conduct heat well; become stronger when wet; and are more scalable than materials like wood.
  • In addition to its fibre used in textiles and apparel, food products can be derived from cotton, such as edible oil and animal feed from the seed.

Rosa’s story

María Rosa Farroñán, Mochica indigenous cotton farmer and artisan shares her experience cultivating and spinning Peruvian native cotton fiber.

A hand holds cotton in a cotton field as a background.

This website provides a single entry point for all the cotton-specific information on market access, trade statistics, country-specific business contacts and development-assistance related information, as well as links to relevant documents and webpages. It also provides links to other organisations active on cotton.

A woman checking cotton

South American countries that rely heavily on cotton have suffered a decrease in production, affecting the income of thousands of farming families. The initiative +Cotton led by FAO, the Brazilian Cooperation Agency and other local partners hopes to counter this by working with farmers across seven countries in South America. The initiative encourages collaboration and the sharing of innovative farming methods.

*SOURCE: United Nations. Go to ORIGINAL.

2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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