Global organic cotton production and use continued to grow dramatically in 2007 and 2008. Both demand for, and supply of the fiber are growing at double digit rates, indicating strong interest from the global retail markets and interest from farmers in growing cotton in an organic manner.
According to the October 2008 Organic Exchange (OE) Organic Cotton Farm and Fiber Report 2008, the amount of organic cotton grown worldwide in 2007-08 increased to 145,872 metric tons (MT) (668,581 bales). This represented a 152 percent increase from the 57,932 MT (265,517 bales) produced in 2006-07.
Approximately 60 percent of the total represents expansion of known projects while the remaining 40 percent represents data from new projects becoming certified or previously unknown projects. Today, organic cotton is grown on 161,000 hectares in 22 countries.
Fiber production growth
According to OE's recent fiber report, the top five organic cotton producing countries in the 2007-08 crop year were, in order of scale, India (51 percent), Syria (19 percent), Turkey (17 percent), China (5 percent) and Tanzania (2 percent). Together, these five countries accounted for 94 percent of world production.
Organic market growth
Not only is organic cotton production increasing, but the production has progressed so far that the incorporation of organic fiber into product lines has become just another part of doing business, rather than an exception.
Some of the world's largest companies are now committed to organic cotton, including Wal-Mart, Nike, C&A and others. According OE's 2007 market report, the top five purchasers of organic cotton in 2006 were Wal-Mart (U.S.), Nike (U.S.), Coop Switzerland, Patagonia (U.S.) and Otto (Germany). Woolworth's South Africa and C&A (Belgium) in 2007 introduced large programs and OE expects the companies to make the Top Five list for 2007.
The organic cotton market has experienced exponential growth for a number of reasons, including innovative thinking on the part of brands and manufacturers about the social and environmental impact of their products and improved consumer awareness of sustainability issues.
The organic future
While the rapid growth of the organic cotton industry will slow, many companies believe that the organic cotton industry will nonetheless continue to get stronger. Indeed, it appears that with fewer dollars to spend, consumers are choosing their purchases more carefully, rather than cutting back across the board. Consumer research data gathered by Nick Chiarelli, director of consumer trends at GfK Roper Consulting, shows that when faced with economic uncertainty, consumers were likely to reach for products that demonstrated greater value, even when more expensive.
Brendan Condit is communications manager for Organic Exchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the expansion of organic fiber agriculture worldwide. Since its founding in 2002, Organic Exchange has overseen and contributed to extraordinary growth in the organic fiber market.
Sandra Marquardt is president of On the Mark Public Relations and lead author of the upcoming Organic Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report as well as a frequent contributor to Organic Processing magazine.
Editor's Note: Much of the information in this report is from the upcoming Organic Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report, to be released this spring.