Combatting Desertification

Cotton is an Unsustainable Fibre Leaching the Moisture From the Soil

Desertification, cotton, organic cotton, organic agriculture, cotton agriculture, sustainability,sustainable fashion,

The desert is rapidly overtaking the Aral sea – this boat is stranded miles from shore.

 

The Aral Sea was once among the top-five largest lakes in the world. Today villages that used to line its shores border miles of characterless, arid land. What remains of the Aral Sea is visible to their inhabitants only as a distant point on the horizon. The myriad fisheries formerly based in these villages are gone and the villagers are tormented by nightmarish dust storms. The reason? In the 1960s Amu Darya and Syr Daryawere, two large rivers that fed into the Aral Sea, were diverted. The water from these rivers was then used to support Uzbekistan’s cotton agriculture.

Desertification, cotton, organic cotton, organic agriculture, cotton agriculture, sustainability,sustainable fashion,

Shrinking of the Aral Sea

 

June 17th marks World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. It is a day when we should remember the Aral Sea as it once was and fight against creeping desertification in other parts of the world. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification or UNCCD defines desertification as “land degradation in arid, semiarid and dry subhumid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.” This land degradation is caused by many factors including climate change . It is also linked to water scarcity an issue for which the fashion industry shoulders a great deal of responsibility.

Almost half of all textiles produced in a given year contain cotton. Although cotton is “the most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world,” the process of growing cotton can often be very harmful to the environment in ways that contribute to desertification. Cotton requires a lot of water to be grown. It has even been argued that cotton uses the most water of out of any agricultural commodity. On average, one kilogram of cotton requires over 20,000 liters of water.

Desertification, cotton, organic cotton, organic agriculture, cotton agriculture, sustainability,sustainable fashion,

Cotton is a very thirsty plant. Producing one kilo of cotton takes up to 2000L of water.

Though cotton farming negatively affects various countries around the globe including Pakistan, Australia and Mexico, developing nations are by and large less equipped to weather the consequences of desertification than developed ones. This is a fact that the UNCCD has explicitly stated, noting that it is important to keep in mind “the impact of trade and relevant aspects of international economic relations on the ability of affected countries to combat desertification adequately.”  Ethiopia, for instance, in a move that troubles many experts, has intensified water irrigation within the Omo River Basin to support the production of both sugar and cotton. This has led some to worry about the fate of Lake Turkana a body of water which is fed predominantly by the Omo River.  The human toll of this irrigation can already be observed. The Daasanach people have been displaced from the area alongside the Omo River leaving the land available to them for grazing significantly diminished. Human Rights Watch has reported an assortment of human rights abuses including “physical violence” and “arbitrary arrests and detentions” employed to suppress a number of indigenous peoples in Ethiopia whose food security is directly tied to this land.

Desertification in Kenya and Tunisia

 

Better Cotton

There are, however, measures in place to regulate the production of cotton and to lessen the amount of water cotton farmers use. The World Wildlife Fund has in recent years introduced an initiative simply called Better Cotton. So long as cotton farmers comply with certain rules and regulations set out by the WWF they can identify themselves as makers of “Better Cotton.” Farmers whose cotton is termed ‘Better Cotton” must pledge to “use water efficiently and [to] care for the availability of water.”  The cotton they produce will also contain fewer pesticides than average cotton. Retailers whose clothes incorporate cotton harvested under these conditions are then able to market themselves to consumers as users of “Better Cotton” and can benefit from their association with the WWF.

Cotton Alternatives

Another option open to consumers who want to fight against desertification is to simply avoid clothes made from cotton altogether. Today there are a multitude of choices for individuals looking to go cotton-free.

Desertification, cotton, organic cotton, organic agriculture, cotton agriculture, sustainability,sustainable fashion, cotton free, tencel, alternative fabrics, natural fibres

Tencel is a sustainable alternative to cotton.

While Tencel may currently be more expensive than cotton, its fibres are derived from eucalyptus a plant that can flourish without both water and pesticides.

 

Flax, linen, organic fibres, natural fibres, organic, sustainability, sustainable fashion, desertification, sustainable fabric, sustainable clothing,

Flax is used to produce linen.

Although flax is typically grown with the use of pesticides there are far fewer used in flax production than in most cotton production. Additionally, much less water is needed to grow flax.

Hemp, Flax, linen, organic fibres, natural fibres, organic, sustainability, sustainable fashion, desertification, sustainable fabric, sustainable clothing,

Hemp is a sustainable fibre

Again, this is a plant whose growth requires a lot less water and pesticides than the typical cotton crop—what’s more it’s fibres are also naturally antimicrobial!

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About the Author

Ariel Wyse is a freelance writer who lives and works in Southern Ontario. She is passionate about feminism, sustainability and labour rights. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from The University of Toronto.

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