Cotton is an important fibre.
It’s one of the most widely grown crops in the world, and is used in a lot of the clothes we wear.
In this guide, we look at the present and future stats, trends and challenges of the cotton industry – for both regular, and organic cotton.
Summary – Present & Future Of The Cotton Industry
- Conventional cotton is a widely used fibre – around half of all textiles contain cotton
- As a crop, it sits within the top 20 most valuable agricultural crop and livestock products
- It employs hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and many farmers
- It employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries
- Organic cotton represents about 0.7 percent of global cotton production
- Nineteen countries are farming the organic cotton—India is making the lion’s share of it (67 percent).
- The US is probably to top consumer of organic cotton
- Conventional cotton receives many subsidies and also doesn’t pay heavy penalties for a lot of the environmental and social harm it can do
- Conventional cotton is improving in some sustainability measures over time – such as mount of land and water required to grow cotton in some countries. GE seeds are also in some cases decreasing the amount of pesticide it needs. Having said that, countries like India still use almost double the global average of water to produce 1kg of cotton
- Overall, all cottons should look to be less harmful and more sustainable over time with water use (decrease water use, or increase rain fed crops), decreasing water pollution, decreasing pesticide use, bettering social impact & worker’s rights/conditions (particularly in developing countries), bettering farmer’s conditions (particularly in developing countries), and becoming better aware of the long term impact of using GE cotton seeds
- The cotton industry is steadily improving, but there’s still a lot that can be done to ensure it is more eco friendly, sustainable, safer and fairer
Value Of The Overall Cotton Industry Overall, & Employment Numbers
- In 2012, the global value in billions of US dollars of cotton fibre crops was $37 billion US dollars
- This value sits within the top 20 of all crops and livestock products, with rice, cattle meat and pig meat topping the list
- The world cotton market [as a whole] was estimated at USD $77 billion for 2014/15
- Cotton provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries. Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton.
- Approximately 75% of our clothing incorporates cotton. 300 million farmers in 80 countries rely on the cotton industry for their livelihood.
How Much Cotton Is Grown Worldwide In Total
- 50% more cotton is produced worldwide today on the same amount of land as compared to 40 some years ago
- cotton occupies less than 3% of the world’s agricultural land
- cotton production provides two crops with each seasonal harvest: cotton fiber, which currently supplies 30% of the world’s textile fiber needs, and cottonseed, a source of nutritious cooking oil and a protein-rich supplement for dairy cattle and aquaculture feeds
The land Area and Relative Proportion of the 18 Major Crop Categories in the world are:
|Crop||Area, 1000 km2||Relative Fraction, %|
|Oil palm fruit||72||<1|
|Total of major 18 crops||15,256||85|
You can also read about the geographical distribution about which countries the major crops are found in at:
How Much Cotton Is Produced A Year In Total
- 29 million tons of cotton are produced a year – The same as 29 t-shirts for everyone on Earth.
- But, the consumption of cotton varies a lot. In some Western countries, we use an amount of cotton that would corresponds to more than 100 t-shirts per person.
- More than 100 countries in the world grow cotton (source: ICAC 2012)
- Cotton accounts for about 31% of worldwide fibre production (source: Australian Grown Cotton Sustainability Report, 2014)
- The global 20 year average (1993/94 to 2013/14) annual planted area is 33 million hectares of cotton (source: Bremen Cotton Exchange, 2014) producing about 26 million tonnes of lint each year
- Average world cotton yields reached 780 kilograms of lint per hectare in 2013/14, up markedly from 230 kilograms of lint per hectare in the 1950s (source: Bremen Cotton Exchange 2014)
Countries That Produce The Most Cotton In Total
In 2014/15, the major cotton producing countries overall were:
- China: 33.0 million bales
- India: 27.0 million bales
- United States: 18.0 million bales
- Pakistan: 10.3 million bales
- Brazil: 9.3 million bales
- Uzbekistan: 4.6 million bales
- Australia: 1.9 million bales
- Turkey: 2.8 million bales
- Turkmenistan: 1.6 million bales
- Greece: 1.4 million bales
How Much Organic Cotton Is Grown & Produced
- 193,840 farmers produced 112,488 metric tons of organic cotton in 2015.
- According to the 2011 Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Farm & Fiber Report, approximately 151,079 metric tons (MT) of organic cotton (693,900 bales) were grown on 324,577 hectares (802,047 acres) in 2010-2011. Organic cotton now equals 0.7 percent of global cotton production.
- Organic cotton now equals 0.7 percent of global cotton production.
- Approximately 219,000 farmers grew the fiber.
- The OTA reports that American farmers increased plantings of organic cotton by 26 percent in 2009 over 2008, while sales of organic cotton fiber grew 10.4 percent (to $521 million) during the same time.
- U.S. organic cotton production continues to increase, encouraged by consumer and corporate demand, price premiums, and regulatory shifts that facilitate clear labeling for organic cotton products
- According to an OTA survey of U.S. organic cotton production, undertaken with funding from Cotton Incorporated, the number of acres planted with organic cotton in the U.S. increased 36 percent from 2009-2010 while bales harvested were up nearly 24 percent. U.S. producers harvested 11,262 acres of organic cotton in 2010, representing 95 percent of planted acres, and yielding 13,279 bales
- While 2011 saw the largest number of acres planted since 1999, harvested acres and bales are expected to be down by 38 and 45 percent, respectively, due to a devastating drought in the Southern Plains. In fact, the extremely dry conditions in Texas forced farmers there to abandon more than 65 percent of their planted crop in 2011.
- A modest acreage gain of two percent is forecast for 2012, bringing plantings of U.S. organic cotton to 16,406 acres. Another two percent net gain is in the five-year forecast, bringing the total to 16,716 acres. Opportunity exists for significant expansion of U.S. organic acreage most likely in nascent organic cotton-growing regions such as North Carolina, which harvested its first crop of organic cotton in 2011.
Value Of The Organic Cotton Market
- Global sales of organic cotton products totaled $15.76 billion in 2015.
- According to a report by Textile Exchange 2010 Global Market Report on Sustainable Textiles, global sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated $5.16 billion in 2010. This reflects a 20 percent increase from the 2009 market.
Countries That Grow & Consume The Most Organic Cotton
- Nineteen countries are farming the fiber—India is making the lion’s share of it (67 percent)
- India grows the great majority of the world’s organic cotton, and the US is probably the biggest organic-cotton consumer. Meanwhile, Sweden’s H&M, which manufactures much of its clothing in Asia, has been labeled its top user. (Of course, conventional cotton also can be—and often is—sold far from where it was grown.)
- Organic cotton was grown in 20 countries worldwide in 2010-11, led by India, and including (in order of rank): Syria, China, Turkey, United States, Tanzania, Egypt, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Pakistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Paraguay, Israel, Tajikistan, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Senegal.
The Future Of Organic Cotton – Growth, & Challenges
- The main challenge is that the market doesn’t work properly – current economic rules don’t attach environmental and social costs to conventional cotton production, so the mainstream market is given a massive hidden subsidy as society and the environment bear these costs instead of the conventional producers
- This massive subsidy is why non-organic cotton remains much, much cheaper than organic cotton
- The question isn’t why organic ‘costs’ more, it should be why conventional production is allowed to avoid taking responsibility for so many costs
- This is one reason that organic cotton is having numerous challenges in growing its market share and making a strong business case for companies to shift to organic
- Other reasons might be…
- Organic cotton can be difficult to find while shopping
- Organic cotton can be expensive to buy when shopping
- Control of inputs like seeds are put into the hands of a few big companies — organic seeds are difficult to procure and distribute to farmers. Even when they are available, getting them to farmers in developing countries where most cotton currently comes from is a challenge
- Building the capacity of small farmers to be able to go to organic farming and receive necessary certifications is also a challenge
- With organic cotton – Prices, the timeliness of payment and market access are not always strong enough to offset the risk of investment made by the farmer
- Companies can’t just purchase more organic cotton; they need to work with suppliers to ensure both quality and transparency along the entire chain. That includes working with initiatives like the Organic Cotton Roundtable to build farmer capacity to produce more organic cotton. Companies that understand this are the ones who will benefit
Organic cotton has some positive signs…
- In 2014, organic cotton reversed a three-year trend and grew globally by 10 percent. More and more retailers, like C&A, which topped Textile Exchange’s 2014 Report for volume of organic cotton use, are incorporating organic cotton into their supply chains.
- The most successful brands and retailers are implementing new ways of sourcing that involve a more direct relationship with producers, with longer term commitments that incentivize cotton farmers to go organic
- The final piece of the puzzle is customer demand for organic cotton – If more companies see a market for organic clothing products, then this can help address the challenges facing organic cotton all along its supply chain.
- Raising consumer awareness about the benefits of organic cotton is therefore very important
- With more impetus from companies, greater consumer demand and increased advocacy from organizations like Textile Exchange – organic cotton can continue to grow
- What’s next for organic cotton…
- Brands have steadily been foraying further into the use of organic cotton and, by volume, the five biggest users are: C&A, H&M, Tchibo, Inditex and Nike. And in the years ahead, Textile Exchange expects those volumes will continue to grow.
- “Alongside the multiple ‘homes’ in which organic cotton resides, the organic movement is continuously evolving. While the core principles of organic remain intact, the priorities have evolved as the organic movement matures from the beginning phase, of establishing the standard, to building the market for organic products through certification and labeling, which has been the focus in more recent years,” Textile Exchange wrote in the report. “Now, we are moving on to become more inclusive as a movement, accounting for impact, and factoring in continuous improvement, as this is being referred to as Organic 3.0.”
- In 2011, organic fiber sales in the United States grew by 17.1 percent over the previous year, to reach $708 million, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey. The future looks promising, with organic fiber products appearing in more mainstream outlets, led by large and small U.S. textile retailers alike.
GOTS certified organic cotton facilities are growing…
- The number of facilities certified to GOTS shows an increase of 8.2%, from 4,642 facilities in 2016 to 5,024 facilities in 2017
- Apparel companies are developing programs that either use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products. There are a number of companies driving the expanded use of domestic and international organic cotton. For a current list of OTA members with products containing organic fiber, visit The Organic Pages Online™ at http://www.ota.com/.
- Companies are increasingly becoming certified to traceability standards such as the Organic Exchange (OE) Blended or OE 100 standard, tracing the organic fiber from the field to finished product. Many manufacturers have also become certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which addresses textile’s processing stages and includes strong labor provisions.
Organic cotton is currently being used for:
- organic cotton fiber is used in everything from personal care items (sanitary products, make-up removal pads, cotton puffs, ear swabs), to fabrics, home furnishings (towels, bathrobes, sheets, blankets, bedding, beds), children’s products (toys, diapers), and clothes of all kinds and styles (whether for lounging, sports or the workplace).
- In addition, organic cottonseed is used for animal feed, and organic cottonseed oil is used in a variety of food products, including cookies and chips.
In the US:
- The Farm Act has been increasing the spending on organic agriculture, reaching $100 million in research, $15 million in program enforcement and $57.5 million in certification funding for small producers in 2014
- These are huge increases from 2002 levels – so this is a positive indicator for organic agriculture like organic cotton
Conventional/Regular Cotton Is Improving In Several Areas Over Time
Improvements with regular cotton have mainly been made with more efficient water use (through improved irrigation), and increased yields (through genetic engineering) over the years
- the use of sprayed insecticides is quickly decreasing [with regular cotton] with the advent of genetically engineered cotton seeds that have insecticides bred right into them. A third of global cotton cropland and 45 percent of world cotton production now uses genetically engineered seeds. This poses a whole other set of issues, as some scientists fear that the proliferation of such “Frankenseeds” can lead to pest immunities and even the unleashing of so-called “super pests” that can resist virtually any pesticide.
Where Cotton Farming, Production & Consumption Might Look To Improve Overall
Some ways to improve the cotton industry might be to:
- Increase the amount of rain fed cotton (as opposed to cotton fed by irrigated fresh water) – this would not only save water, but enable freshwater to be re-distributed to those without access to drinking water (especially in places like India)
- Decrease the amount of harmful pesticides, and fertilizer inputs required to grow cotton
- Decrease the amount of water pollution that happens during cotton production from chemical dyes, bleaches etc.
- Keep GMO cotton safe, and use biotechnology only for the benefit of everyone in cotton growing
- Increase predictability and stability of cotton farming for cotton farmers in developing countries – increase their independence by not having to rely on companies with monopolies who supply cotton seeds, pesticides, fertizliers etc.
- Make working conditions fairer and better, and decrease risk to personal health cotton workers in developing or poor areas
- Increase awareness among consumers of how cotton is grown and produced
Countries like India can improve…
- Rather than matching production of goods to the sustainable use of existing water resources, India, like governments around the world, hopes to use engineering to increase the amount of water. Instead, India could grow cotton in less arid regions with more efficient irrigation and fewer pesticides to greatly reduce the crop’s impact on water resources.
- Maintaining market share (especially in Asia), enhanced consumer awareness and continued investments in research and development (of new innovations and products) are needed to keep the U.S. cotton industry advancing
- The cotton industry has been linked to forced labor and farmers suicides, but this does not depend on the crop being grown organically or not; the unsustainable volumes are driven by global apparel demand and the culture of fast fashion, among other factors.
- Slow fashion and slower, higher quality consumerism could be part of the solution to this
Other Cotton Stats Of Note
- A U.S. bale of cotton weighs around 500 pounds, and one bale alone can produce 215 pairs of jeans, 250 single bed sheets, 750 shirts, 1,200 t-shirts, 2,100 pairs of boxer shorts, 3,000 diapers, 4,300 pairs of socks, or 680,000 cotton balls
- Seventy-five percent of all cotton produced worldwide in 2015 was genetically modified. In the U.S., 93 percent of all cotton currently grown is GMO cotton.