There is a global shortage of non-GM (genetically modified) cotton seed, which must be used to grow organic, Fairtrade and Cotton Made in Africa cotton. Nearly two thirds of all cotton grown worldwide is now GM.

This has totally changed the seed industry with large companies no longer offering non-GM varieties. Even where they are available, they are bred for high-input agriculture which means farmers using synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation.

In India alone, the company Bayer (which acquired Monsanto) has a 95% monopoly of the seed market. This makes it almost impossible for small-scale farmers who want to cultivate organic or Fairtrade cotton to source non-GM seeds.

TRAID is funding the Fairtrade Foundation’s project with Pratibha Syntex to support cotton farmers at the Vasudha co-operative in Madhyapradesh, India to breed non-GM seeds so they can have more choice over how they farm.

The breeding programme to produce non-GEM seed is led by a professional seed breeder and by the end of the 2017, the fields had been prepared, seeds treated and sown, and successfully germinated.

In the first year of the project, around 1500 farmers had access to 9,200 organic seed packets produced by their own cooperative. Having access to non-GM seeds will bring all the environmental and health benefits of growing organic plus a higher price for their cotton! The project will also help cotton farmers in the co-operative to benefit from improved access to high-value UK Fairtrade markets.

Organic cotton seed packaging design

Excitingly, the project has now produced its own packaged seeds for sale which have been developed with input form some of the project’s ‘star’ farmers who have trialled the seeds over several seasons. The seeds are sold for Rs600 a packet, the equivalent packet of GM seeds costs Rs730. They have been bred to be pest resistant, drought tolerant and to grow plants that will be easy to harvest.

Madhya Pradesh where the project is based produces 23% of the world’s organic cotton and this work is ensuring farmers can continue to access non-GM seed to push back against chemical pesticides for an organic future. We are hopeful.