Interview with Vinita Baravkar, Bhumi Organic Cotton

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Did you know that cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world?! Shocking isn’t it.

Vinita Baravkar is the founder of Bhumi Organic Cotton and a recent addition to Guide To Organics website. I recently caught up with Vinita to learn more about the cotton industry and other insights into certified organic cotton.

I was most curious to learn about workers conditions and the impact of genetically modified cotton on the environment.

Why did you start Bhumi Organic Cotton?

I spent many years overseas travelling and with my experience in international public health, I saw firsthand the disastrous health and environmental impacts of traditional cotton growing – farmer suicides, child labour, pesticide poisoning, birth defects, harmful dyes and toxic waterways. After years in the field meeting with amazing non-government organisations (NGOs), grassroots organisations and a growing movement of organic farmers, it was time for positive change, and I combined my deep love for the Earth, humanity and sustainable design to create Bhumi Organic Cotton.

What is the difference between certified organic cotton and other cotton?

To put it simply, certified organic cotton is produced without the use of any harmful chemicals, insecticides and pesticides. It does not use genetically modified seeds, nor does it use any toxic dyes, bleaches or finishes. Overall, this results in having the lowest environmental impact, a deep sense of social justice with fair trade practices and also the purest cotton, which is extremely soft yet resilient, gentle on the skin and good for your health.

In a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 100 million cotton farmers produce approximately 20 million tonnes of non-organic cotton each year with China, the United States, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and West Africa accounting for over 75 per cent of global production for the retail market.

The cotton seed that is used is Bt, a genetically modified cotton that requires a far greater amount of water than natural cotton varieties. The Bt cotton seeds are becoming insect resistant and demand irrigation, pesticides, fertilisers and farming techniques few farmers can afford.

The United Nations (UN) and World Health organization (WHO) estimate that up to 77 million non-organic cotton workers suffer poisoning from pesticides each year, with more than one million agricultural workers worldwide requiring hospitalisation every year. Non-organic cotton is also responsible for the release of US$2 billion of chemical pesticides annually, more than any other single crop worldwide. And in our atmosphere for every kilo of raw non-organic cotton, the plant uses a kilo of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, which produces nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

All Bhumi products are certified under the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) Standard and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The certification ensures Bhumi products are made (from harvest to shelf) without the use of any harmful chemicals, allergens, insecticides, pesticides, toxic dyes, bleaches or finishes, does not use genetically modified seeds and uses less water than regular cotton.

Is clothing made out of GM Cotton toxic?

The cotton seed that is used in GM Cotton is Bt, a genetically modified cotton that requires a far greater amount of water than natural cotton varieties. The Bt cotton seeds are becoming insect resistant and demand irrigation, pesticides, fertilisers and farming techniques few farmers can afford.

95% of the worlds cotton is made from GM seeds. Along the supply chain of regular cotton production and manufacturing, tens of thousands of acutely toxic chemicals are used, including chemical dyes, heavy metals, formaldehyde and aromatic solvent. Many of these chemicals are classified as hazardous and toxic by WHO and are associated with allergies, skin rashes, respiratory problems cancer, birth defects and hormonal and reproductive effects. All this ends up in our soils, in our waterways, in our clothes, in our towels, in our sheets, in our skin and in our bodies.

Is there much of a demand for certified organic cotton?

Yes – absolutely and it continues to grow steadily as the awareness among consumers is increasing. I believe that consumers ultimately want to do the most good and cause the least amount of harm to our bodies, each other and our planet. This can be seen in more mindful lifestyles that encompass cruelty-free products and consumption habits.

As we are being made aware of what happens in the textile industry, It seems organic clothing is a more ethical option and is becoming more available. I look forward to it becoming the standard.

Where is the cotton grown?

Currently, Bhumi sources all of its organic cotton grown in India. India, along with Turkey, is among the largest organic cotton producers in the world. For our required quality, volume and scale, we have chosen India as the destination to import organic cotton. India has one of the longest and respected textile traditions in the world, which means it provides us access to some of the highest quality production facilities in the world that comply with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Soil Association requirements.

What are the challenges of growing organic cotton?

One of the biggest practical challenges of growing organic cotton for farmers worldwide is – how to control pests?

What makes you unique?

What is unique about us is – not only ALL Bhumi products are made from 100% certified organic cotton, but Bhumi as a business entity is also certified by Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fairtrade and Soil Association. These certifications are global standards and have the strictest criteria for ensuring compliance to organic production and ethical practices.

Was it an easy process to become certified?

Since we were committed and clear about using 100% certified organic cotton right from our inception, we didn’t find it as difficult to become certified – all our products and the entire supply chain from seed to shelf were already aligned to the strictest environmental standards and ethical manufacturing practices.

What are the conditions like for the workers involved in the production of the cotton?

All the cotton grown for Bhumi products is ethically grown and made in Fair Trade certified farms and mills. This ensures a respect for the social, economic and labour rights of farmers and workers along the entire supply chain. It encourages sustainable farming practices, protects the environment and improves the quality of health and well being for farmers and workers. Fairtrade enables the funding of community projects – the building of schools, health clinics, the building of wells for access to clean water, and education and training in business and agriculture. By supporting fairtrade practices, Bhumi ensures a respect for the social and economic rights of the entire supply chain, including the farmers that are behind each product.

What products do you sell and what is your top seller?

We offer Organic Bedding, Sheets, Quilt Covers, Blankets, Towels, Robes, Clothing/Basics, Sleepwear, PJs, Underwear, Socks & more to arrive in coming weeks! Bedding and Underwear have been our top sellers and we continue to expand our choices within those collections.

Find out more about Bhumi Organic Cotton here

21 October 2015

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