Back in September 2019, Neutral introduced the Tiger Cotton T shirt in to the market. In a project created in collaboration with WWF India and C&A Foundation, this cotton is helping to preserve the Bengal tiger in Central India. This is the story behind the T shirt.
Deep inside Central India lie two of India’s oldest nature reserves, which are home to the Bengal tiger. In between the two reserves, 14,000 cotton farmers work the land. When the tigers wander from one nature reserve to the other, the cotton fields act as a corridor for the animals.
Back in 2015-16, WWF India; the C&A Foundation, a Swiss-based corporate foundation; and Neutral, a Danish company making 100% certified organic cotton products, joined forces to promote organic cotton agriculture in Madhya Pradesh.
Of the 14,000 farmers that work the land between the two nature reserves, Neutral works alongside 1,200 of these to convert their fields to organic cotton. Without the toxic impact of pesticides in cotton farming, the farmer, the wildlife and the tiger can all thrive.
“Sustainable agriculture plays an important role in conservation. It is an important piece of the puzzle. When farmers manage their land sustainably, they can help preserve critical habitats by improving soil and water quality. This, in turn, enhances their agricultural productivity in the long term. In this case, promoting organic cotton in areas where agriculture and biodiversity interact could create a win-win scenario for farmers and wildlife,” says Dr Sejal Worah, program director, WWF India.
But what’s the benefit to the farmers? Why should they convert to organic cotton?
The aim of the project is to produce a sustainable landscape wherein economic benefits are being achieved through reduction of off-farm inputs and premium market accessibility while environmental benefits are gained through eco-system services that organic agriculture is bringing such as soil improvement, biological pest control, pollination and water flow.
However, the conversion to organic cotton agriculture takes time, as Lars Bech, founder of Neutral, explains: “It takes three to four years to eliminate residues of chemicals and successfully restore the soil. In this period farmers’ output is declining, making it difficult to earn enough to survive.”
Each farmer enrolled into the Tiger Cotton program on average produces 294kg of cotton annually. Which is not a lot. This why Neutral pays a 10% premium directly to the farmer during the conversion period, removing the financial obstacle and increasing their motivation to grow organic.
Speaking last August, Lars said that Neutral had purchased 53 tonnes of cotton fibre from the farmers, which was used to make 200,000 T shirts.
The final achievement for the farmers comes when they receive the all-important GOTS seal of approval. This secures their future of growing organic cotton and helps to create a thriving environment, through restored soil, rivers and groundwater.
The removal of harmful chemical pesticides and replacing them with environmentally-friendly manures and sprays, has not only benefited the wildlife, but has also been beneficial to the health of the farmers. As well as learning how to make organic manure, insecticides and pesticides using locally available materials, the farmers have also learnt about the importance of spacing their cotton saplings apart by 3ft. Known as space marking, an important practice in organic agriculture, this allows another crop such as corn to be grown alongside the cotton plant. This makes the plant stronger, but also gives the farmer another source of income.
By doing all of this the Bengal tiger’s future in the region is preserved. As the tiger sits at the top of the food chain, it needs a healthy population of other animals in order to live. Through its hunting the tiger keeps the balance between herbivores and the vegetation they feed off in check. So, if you save the tiger, you save the whole eco-system. And so, by creating a healthy corridor where the tigers can walk between reserves, organic farmers play a key role in the conservation of the Bengal tiger
The final result for Neutral is the Tiger Cotton T shirt. This T shirt is made from 100% organic cotton in conversion and is available in white, black and navy. This T shirt is more than a garment, it’s sustainability at its core.