The Chetna Organic Cotton Project was launched in 2004 to improve the livelihoods of small, marginalized Indian farmers through the integration of organic and Fair Trade principles. Farmers produce 100 percent organic and Fairtrade Certified cotton without child labour, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, or GMOs. Farmers have a direct role in decision-making throughout the production and selling processes. They are represented in two cooperatives: the Chetna Organic Farmers’ Association and the Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company which ensure project goals are met and benefits reach workers directly.
Garments manufactured from Chetna cotton are completely traceable to the farmers’ fields, where they are extensively trained in quality control and certification standards. In six years, the project expanded from 240 farmers to more than 6,000 farmers mainly from tribal belts in India. Almost all cotton produced is purchased by an organic and Fair Trade Certified factory called Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills Pvt. Ltd. This relationship provides many additional benefits including the creation of contracts from the beginning of the season to secure bank loans for farmers, access to pre-financing of up to 30 percent of cotton harvest, and participation in community development projects such as setting up schools in remote villages.
Previously, farmers had to risk their families’ health and safety by storing cotton in their homes and selling at high season, which yielded the lowest of profits. Fairtrade Premiums have been used to construct a warehouse where cotton can be stored until low season when prices are higher. Farmers no longer have a dangerous fire hazard in their living spaces.
In the Keliveli village, located in the Akola district of Maharashtra, India, Fairtrade Premiums were used to clear thorny plants from an area where animals are grazed. Funds were also used to construct a women’s restroom. These projects have resulted in important quality of life improvements for farmers and their families.