Cotton is the world’s oldest commercial crop and one of the most important fibre crops in the global fashion industry. Despite this, cotton farmers wield little power of influence in the long supply chain, facing challenges ranging from poor prices to climate change. Fairtrade cotton was launched in 2005 to improve the livelihoods of impoverished cotton farmers. Meet one of them: Shiv Narayan Patidar.
I’ve been working with Pratibha-Vasudha, Fairtrade-certified cooperative in Madhya Pradesh, India, since 1999. Vasudha is dedicated to supporting farmers’ livelihoods and community development.
Cotton is my life. But cotton farming is an unpredictable business, as we farmers are vulnerable to economic shifts and changing climate, which can have devastating effects on profits.
The Fairtrade scheme has brought many benefits for me, my family and the community. As a farmer, I get a better price for my cotton, and with the Fairtrade Premium, we constructed a cattle water tank for better animal husbandry, set up yoga camps and medical camps for free health check-ups. The co-operative also built ladies toilet for women to maintain their integrity, solar lamps facility and arranged life insurance for the farmers.
Dreams do come true
‘What is the most important change you’d like to see in the region?’ – I was asked few years ago. ‘Education for my children’, I answered.
At that time my children attended a government-owned school.
Primary education in government schools is free yet conditions are very poor. The school had one teacher for over 150 children. Private schools offer a higher quality of education but are unaffordable for an average farmer.
Many farmers shared my dream of building a school, as we all wanted a better future for our children, especially as illiteracy in the region is very common. We decided to save the Fairtrade Premium for a school which our children could attend. And so the Vasudha Vidya Vihar was built.
Our own school
After starting in 2010 with very basic infrastructure and just a small number of children, the school now provides quality education to 425 students from our community and very remote villages of Karhi, Khargone district in Central India, for a very reasonable price.
As a Fairtrade farmer, I pay 50% of the fee for my second child. Additionally, as an organic-certified farmer, I benefit from a further 5% discount on the fee.
We want to develop this school up to a degree college level, where children can study business and technology. We don’t have funds yet, but we are determined. Having the school and seeing how well our children are doing have boosted confidence throughout the community.
Will they follow in our footsteps and become cotton farmers?
Many children say they want to become businessmen or doctors. But they do care about the community and I know once they are educated, they will apply new ideas, new ways of working and new techniques to transform the cotton industry.
Photos by Suzanne Lee.