From field to fan shop: how to increase supply

By

Organic cotton is extremely popular – but farmers still find it difficult to change their conventional cultivation methods. A new project addresses this dilemma: Bundesliga football teams in Germany are promoting the switch to organic cotton in India. And thereby setting an example.

By Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

All contributions

As the saying goes, many hands make light work. This is exactly what a group of men from Germany had in mind when they travelled to India three years ago. But there was a problem: they visited a textile factory that uses sustainable cotton. "There are often shortages of certified organic cotton," says Mathias Diestelmann. " We keep going to the market searching for it," says the managing director of "Brands Fashion," Europe's market leader for sustainable workwear. He was accompanied on the trip by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and a representative of a Bundesliga club whose fan shop sells products made from organically-certified Indian cotton. And he had an idea:
 

“If there is insufficient supply of organic cotton,” he said, “we’ll just have to increase it ourselves.”

 

And so the first seeds were sown for the “From field to fan shop” project. Funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, they set to work. Five clubs were needed in order to reach critical mass. GIZ organised events to promote the project and nine first and second division Bundesliga football clubs have now joined forces with Brands Fashion and GIZ to ensure increased supply:

 

450 smallholders are making the switch from conventional to certified organic cotton. In return, the project guarantees to buy their products.

 

“We wanted to make a start,” says Diestelmann. The cultivation of organic cotton is actually extremely beneficial for farmers: they achieve higher, more stable sales prices; not to mention the environmental impact. But there is a catch: the farmland doesn’t produce sufficient, truly certifiable organic cotton until three to four years after making the switch, so the change doesn’t happen overnight. In the meantime, growers have to make the necessary investment upfront and must be able to live with lower yields. Because the market either demands the cheapest possible conventional cotton or organically-certified cotton. So-called cotton in conversion, i.e. cotton grown during the three-year transition period, doesn’t meet either of these requirements. However, most cotton is grown by low-income smallholders, who shy away from making the switch. And 50 per cent of those who do so stop after a year, as they are unable to continue without assistance. Consequently, certified organic cotton only accounts for around one per cent of global cotton production.

 

“It’s a win-win situation,” says Diestelmann. The production region of Gujarat is located in northwest India. “Conventional cotton planting consumes much more fresh water than organic cotton, and the use of pesticides also pollutes the groundwater.” And water is becoming increasingly scarce in the area. Rivers have dried up and climate change is affecting the region in the form of drought and torrential rain. “There are already many crop failures. So action is required.”

 

In the long term, the approach adopted by the 450 smallholders funded by the project will put a stop to low yields and high cultivation costs as well as to the degradation of resources, resulting in long-term, direct business relationships in a region that is dominated by poverty.

 

"If we can reduce the water consumption by half for a T-shirt," says Jens Bräunig, B2C Director at VfB Stuttgart, "that's a major step in the right direction." And finally, he adds, the textile industry is one of those with the greatest environmental challenges.”

 

The football clubs stock the cotton-in-conversion products in their fan shops, meaning they pay the same price for them as they would for organic cotton. "We've already switched to sustainable for 90 percent of our cotton goods," says Bräunig. And his colleague Gordon Knebel, Head of Merchandising and Warehouse Logistics at 1. FC Union Berlin, says: We are thus expanding our raw material pool of certified cotton within the scope of our possibilities. And we are doing this in the fairest possible way."

 

Football already has the ability to reach people in a different way, to raise awareness of issues from which they are far removed.

 

"I was really surprised," Knebel reports about his first trip to the Gujarat region. "There's a lot to do there, it's a very poor region and you can see that clearly when you're there." He shares the legitimate hope that this project will become a flagship project. “We’re therefore demonstrating that conversion can be successful,” says Diestelmann. “If we can make it work with 450 farmers today, perhaps a bigger player with 1500 or 2000 farmers might make it tomorrow." ”Brands Fashion" is supporting the entire process – from design development to cultivation and production to distribution. The portfolio ranges from shirts and sweatshirts to baby grows and other products.

 

“The supply chain is completely transparent. Customers can use a tracking tool to track every item with the help of a QR code.”

 

But the project doesn’t stop at guaranteed purchases. The clubs are also initiating a sports program that teaches life skills. "In cooperation with an Indian NGO, the program prepares children for the job market, educates them about environmental protection and, as a central component, gives more than 700 children access to school, sports, water and lunch," says Bräunig. "We are focusing on girls and young women, because there is a particularly great need for them," adds Knebel. “On the pitch, everyone is the same, there are no gender roles. We encourage girls and young women to use their voice, to figuratively ask for the ball.”

 

Why are the clubs involved in this? “We serve as a role model,” says Bräunig. “We're required to be forward-thinking and responsible at every level, to plan and then to buy.” The club is therefore convinced it is doing the right thing. “We're not going to sell more shirts, but we take our social responsibility consciously and want to take as many fans as possible on the journey to more sustainability.” And Knebel says: “It’s not about scoring points for us. And not about sympathy. We’re simply taking a closer look at what we want to sell to our fans and want as many people involved as possible to feel they're being treated well and fairly."

 

Farmers are being closely supported during the conversion. They are being given organic seeds and receiving training in sustainable farming practices.

 

“During one visit, I met an old farmer,” recalls Diestelmann, “who told me: ‘Until the 1960s, we grew everything like this’ – he was referring to what we now call organic.” Then came the use of chemicals in the hope of increasing yields.  But this proved delusory. Although modern organic farming is indeed based on some traditional practices, the framework conditions in the agricultural sector have changed dramatically in the last 60 years. Back then, farmers did not need to produce as much as today, for example.

 

The training not only helps producers to adapt to current organic standards but also to use proven scientific findings regarding farming practices, productivity and environmental impacts in order to remain competitive.

 

We call Shailesh Patel, in Kutch, Gujarat, at 11:30 a.m. He is in the office today and didn’t set off with his team at five in the morning to join the farmers in the fields; the heat dictates their working hours. “Six people are out right now, it’s harvest time,” he says, “I have a lot of paperwork to do today so I'm staying here.” Patel, 49, is the Cotton Project Manager at the Rapar & Dhrangadhra Cooperative – the association that works with the fan shop initiative. “It’s looking good so far,” he says, referring to this season’s yield. “We recognised the signs and have been in a more stable position since 2015.” The starting point: climate change, which has been affecting their fields for a long time. “Agriculture here depends on the rain. If there is too little or sometimes too much rainfall, plants and people all suffer.” To minimise the risk, producers have formed a community – and are now in direct contact with partners and negotiate their own contracts with buyers. And they are adapting to climate change: “We use our own seeds. Not only is this much cheaper, it also uses less water and extracts less nutrients from the soil.” Cotton in conversion is performing well: their “harvest expectations have almost been met” – and the farmers involved in the project will receive compensation for any financial losses. “Our long-term prospects are better than those of other farmers,” he says. “We’re increasing our revenue by improving our yields and reducing our costs.” He then hangs up; he still has a lot to plan: the next season starts at the end of June. The project is ongoing.

 

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How farmers are facing the crisis

A contribution by GIZ

Russia's war against Ukraine and its impact on food, energy and fertiliser prices is worrying farmers all over the world. Young farmers, farmer organisations and politicians from Kenya, Chad and Ukraine tell their stories and what keeps them in agriculture.

 

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Priscilla Impraim and her chocolate business

A contribution by Jan Rübel

Priscilla Impraim is one of the first women in Ghana to enter the chocolate business. Despite some hurdles, she founded the company Ab Ovo Confectionery Limited in 2006 with currently six permanent employees and 25 seasonal employees.

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Five climate-friendly methods in agriculture

A Listicle for climate protection and adaptation

These five management practices can increase agricultural production and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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Water may offer the only chance

Interview with Caroline Milow and Ramon Brentführer

Groundwater resources remain dormant in the soil of African regions. Where does it make sense to use them – and where does overexploitation of nature begin? Caroline Milow (GIZ) and Ramon Brentführer (BGR) talk about potentials in the future and lessons from the past.

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Sandisiwe Dlamini and the chilli pepper business

A portrait by Jan Rübel

By processing chilli peppers, Black Mamba wants to give something back to the rural population. In a short portrait, Sandisiwe Dlamini, Food Safety Officer, reveals how.

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“We want to overcome hunger and poverty”

An interview with Fernanda Machiaveli

After four years of the Bolsonaro administration, the new Brazilian government is trying to restart its engagement in agroecology, fighting deforestation in the Amazon and protecting indigenous communities and poor families from hunger. An interview with the Vice-minister for Rural Development and Family Farming, Fernanda Machiaveli.

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“We have to focus on sustainability”

An interview with Karen Mapusua

Karen Mapusua, President of IFOAM Organics International Network, on the danger of the current fuel crises and inflation to loose track in sustainablity, why organic farmers should be heard and how the word “crisis” has a very different meaning where she lives in Fiji.

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Governor's Day with Farmers – For more discussion with local actors

A contribution by William Onura and Larissa Stiem-Bhatia

In agriculture it is important to include political stakeholders in the discourse. To build the bridge between practical application and political action, the think tank TMG launched the Governor's Day with Farmers in Kakamega County, Kenya. Now it took place for the second time. But what are the goals and benefits of the Governor's Day?

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The goals of transformation should leave no one behind

An Interview with Mareike Haase and Stig Tanzmann

Four interviews kick off the relaunch under the new name „Food4Transformation“, asking the same questions from different perspectives. Mareike Haase and Stig Tanzmann from Brot für die Welt explain why the right to food, inclusivity, agroecology and food sovereignty are the central levers for a successful transformation.

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Agricultural policy belongs in prime time

An interview with Dr. Julia Köhn

Four interviews kick off the relaunch under the new name „Food4Transformation“, asking the same questions from different perspectives. Dr Julia Köhn, Chair of the German AgriFood Society, points out in the interview: Only if innovation and transformation are profitable in the medium term can they close the food gap in the long term.

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How a Nigerian fintech wants to secure 1 billion US dollars for farms

An Interview with Blessing Mene

Small farmers often have a hard time getting financing. An app in Nigeria wants to change that: Founder Blessing Mene about what his app offers - and about the opportunities and limitations of agricultural financing.

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BMZ releases video on the transformation of agricultural and food systems

A contribution by GIZ

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has released a video on the transformation of agricultural and food systems. In the video, Federal Minister Svenja Schulze also speaks about the urgent need to combat global hunger and contribute to resilient agricultural and food systems.

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The rush for green energy shouldn’t undermine rights of pastoralist communities

A contribution by Hussein Tadicha Wario

Africa’s drylands seem to be predestined for generating solar and wind power – especially given the current hype over green hydrogen. However, pastoral communities are often put at a disadvantage in this respect. Our author describes the arising conflicts and what successful coexistence of green energy projects and the communities could look like.

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CompensACTION aims to reward farmers for climate performance

A Contribution of the Initiative

The CompensACTION Initiative for food security and a healthy planet, launched by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in 2022, is gaining momentum. It aims to financially compensate smallholder farmers for their contribution to preserving ecosystems. Initial successes have been achieved in Ethiopia, Lesotho and Brazil.

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Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies for the African livestock sector

A Contribution by ILRI and GIZ

The production of animal-source foods is becoming increasingly difficult due to the impact of climate change on the livestock sector in Africa. Though, Livestock make a crucial contribution to food security in Africa. Three papers by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ, ILRI and World Bank analyze, how Africas future livestock sector can look like.

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“It created hope. It created a life”

An interview with Ally-Raza Qureshi, WFP

Iraq suffered many years of war, sanctions and economic crises. However, Ally-Raza Qureshi from the World Food Programme in Iraq sees progress. But now the effects of climate change are becoming apparent in the country. What is to be done?

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New Podcast – Out now!

A Podcast by Food4Transformation

In a world facing crises – from pandemics, armed conflicts, and climate change – how do we ensure everyone has enough food within planetary boundaries? A new podcast by Food4Transformation discover solutions talking to government officials, scientists, NGOs and farmers around the world.

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Blooming landscapes? Only with biodiversity!

A Contribution by Arne Loth

What do chocolate, carrots and tequila have in common? What sounds like the ingredients for an experimental cocktail are foods that would not exist without certain animal species. They are examples of how nature works for us every day, often behind the scenes.

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Together for food security in Zambia

A Contribution by Claudia Jordan (GIZ)

The Agriculture and Food Security Cluster of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Zambia shows how synergies among different projects and partner organisations can help people to eat healthier, diversified food. A delegation of the Bonn based Division of Agriculture and Rural Development learned this in a field visit in the Eastern Province of the Southern African country.

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Earth’s well, all’s well!

A Contribution by Fairtrade Germany

With the annual topic "Earth’s well, all’s well!", Fairtrade Germany is focusing on the concept of agroecology at all levels - and is thus taking the next step towards achieving greater global sustainability. At the Green Week trade fair, Fairtrade Germany will show how this can be achieved taking the cocoa supply chain as an example.

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