Growing Cotton in India
For years, cotton was highly regarded and even recommended by doctors as the healthy fabric to wear. It is a natural fibre and it breathes.
Recently though, the crop has copped a lot of flack.
Health-wise, it has become apparent that most of the cotton products coming into Australia are saturated with Formaldehyde etc. and as far as the environment goes, cotton in Australia is a massive consumer of water and chemicals.
On a recent visit to India, I was delighted to find that cotton, when grown organically, is the perfect crop for their environment.
The monsoon rains in India are highly predictable. There will be a brief period of rain in early June, allowing planting of the crop, then a consistent downpour for a few months while the crop establishes.
Occasional rains after August help the maturation of the plant, which develops into a shrub with a wooden stalk, about 1.2m high.
This is in stark contrast with the experience in Egypt, where farmers rely on artesian water and irrigation channels from the Aswan Dam, with an annual rainfall of just 5cm! It’s an even starker contrast with Australia where we pump water and deprive the river systems.
Whereas in Australia we have massive harvesters to strip the cotton flowers in one hit, in India – as in Egypt- picking is all done by hand.
The first pick will be in October and there can be as many as 5 picks over the next few months. The organic crop typically allows one more pick than it’s GMO counterpart. The big plus with hand-picking is that the flower is picked at it’s peak.
I personally witnessed how superior the organic crop is. The organic plants were visibly healthier and still producing after the season had officially ended – those flowers will be picked and processed next season.
Growing is typically undertaken by a community of around 300 people, on maybe 15 acres. Buffalos are a big part of the way of life, providing milk and manure for composting and bio-gas.
To make biogas, the manure is mixed with equal water and stored in an underground settlement tank. A pipe is fixed to the tank, leading to the house lighting and stove. The gas is under little pressure and is completely safe. When the sludge is depleted of methane, it moves towards an outlet where it is harvested for compost – without loss of nutrient. 3 buffalos or cows providing 5 kg of manure each will keep an average household with enough fuel for 2 days.
I was surprised to find that most of the organic farmers in India are using Bio-Dynamic preparations, the Rudolf Steiner method of putting manure in a cow horn, burying it over winter, etc. So the manure is both a fertilizer and an energizer.
Nothing is wasted in these communities. They are masters of sustainability!!! The cotton stalks are used for firewood and the finer branches are composted. These people are living in harmony with their land and with each other – and are radiantly happy. Their homes and surrounds are very basic but impeccably kept.
Education is very important and in the community I visited, the large spinning plant for the area (doing only organic cotton) has built an impressive school, the SWAYAM Academy, exclusively for the grower’s children. The school operates on donations.
By Raithe Handiman,
10 Coral St, Maleny