O cotton It’s a natural fiber found in many basic items, from clothing to kitchenware, from toiletries to paper money – the lightweight, breathable fabric that keeps you cool and soft, helps clean and helps heal wounds. Chances are you are one of the many people who use cotton daily. Compared to other common clothing fibers such as synthetic polyester and semi-synthetic products, cotton has the advantage of being an all-natural product, which also means it is biodegradable.
Although cotton is a natural fiber, its production, over the centuries, has been haunted by the impact promoted, among others, in the form of pollution and labor exploitation. The most abundantly produced natural fiber in the world (estimated that 25 million tons of cotton are produced each year) went through a tortuous path until reaching the current stage, marked by the global concern to make the “White gold” is planted, harvested, improved and traded in a sustainable and ethical manner.
With regard to the environment, cotton faces some obstacles: it generally requires a lot of water to grow, and is mainly grown in arid conditions. This means that in some crops, not only are large amounts of water used to grow cotton each year, but the production also contributes to the drying out of some regions. And the high level of water wastage is not just due to irrigation – it is also commonly a result of inefficient water use and pollution due to pesticide use.
This scenario, however, is increasingly distant from the Brazilian reality. The country is the largest supplier of sustainable cotton in the world: the fiber produced here is predominantly grown responsibly (75% of production is socio-environmental), generates jobs, drives the economy and contributes to a conscious fashion. Brazil is a world champion in productivity when it comes to cotton without irrigation: more than 90% of our plantations depend only on rainwater to develop.
Brazil has remained among the five largest fiber producers in the world, alongside countries such as China, India, the USA and Pakistan. In the photo, a panel at the Pamplona farm, in Cristalina, one of the 23 properties of SLC Agrícola — Photo: Carlos Rudiney/Abrapa
In crystallinea municipality in Goiás, about 270 kilometers from the capital, Goiânia, immense harvesters of the Agricultural SLCwhich can weigh tons, circulate through the crops of Pamplona farm harvesting the 2021/2022 cotton crop. The company accounts for about 11% of the Brazilian production of commodity, estimated at 2.61 million tons for the harvest ended in June. SLC is one of hundreds of agricultural groups that own the ABR seal (Responsible Brazilian Cotton), a program that ensures fiber sustainability in good social, environmental and economic practices. And the practices open up a market that is more valued by domestic consumers and also in the international market.
“Even today, we need to demystify the perception of cotton. Many people still push the history of slave labor, the high consumption of pesticides, and this is no longer the reality. Today, Brazil is the world leader in sustainable cotton production. sustainability is a very strong demand from the consumer itself. Therefore, we focus on productivity and efficiency, with complete traceability of each bale”, defined the executive director of Abrapa (Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers), Marcio Portocarrero, in a visit to the vast fields full of cotton from the Pamplona farm, in Cristalina, accompanied by the report of one planet.
Less pollution, less emissions
In recent years, Brazil has remained among the five largest producers of fiber in the world, alongside countries such as China, India, the USA and Pakistan, and demand for the local product should remain heated. In the accumulated of the crop year, 1.6 million tons of lint have already been exported, totaling revenues of US$ 3.17 billion (approximately R$ 17 billion at the current price).
The vast cultivation of organic cotton, instead of conventional cotton, is a competitive advantage for Brazil both from an economic and environmental point of view. The practice reduces water pollution levels by 98%, according to a report from the Water Footprintsince synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers are not used.
Cotton cultivation is a competitive advantage for Brazil both from an economic and environmental point of view — Photo: Carlos Rudiney/Abrapa
According to the Textile Exchangeorganic cotton creates 46% less carbon emissions greenhouse gases than conventional cotton, simply by not using fertilizers and pesticides that release nitrogen dioxide and using less mechanized agricultural practices. Because it is free of fertilizers and pesticides, the soil also acts as a “carbon sink“, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.
THE Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers (Abrapa) highlights that all farms certified by the programs Responsible Brazilian Cotton (ABR) and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) – a non-profit organization, created in 2005, based in Geneva, Switzerland, which works to improve world cotton production for those who produce it, for the environment in which it is grown and for the future of the sector – follow good practices throughout the cotton handling process.
The equivalent of 75% of all production units in the country in the 2019/2020 harvest prioritize integrated pest management and biological control in their agronomic management system. Goiás, Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais adopt biological control agents on a massive scale in cotton plantations, according to Abrapa. States hold five biofactorieswith the capacity to supply 1.1 million hectares of cotton in the 2020/2021 harvest – corresponding to more than 80% of national production.
These achievements are highlighted by the movement I’m from cottoncreated by Abrapa, in partnership with Brazilian Cotton Institute (Iba)in 2016, to awaken a collective conscience around fashion and responsible consumption.
To achieve its goals, Sou de Algodão seeks to unite all agents in the production chain of this fiber, including rural workers, weavers, artisans, guarantors, fashion designers, stylists and students, producing focused campaigns and consumer-oriented content. Final. In addition, it establishes partnerships with brands that value the fiber and work with products that use at least 70% cotton.
Since 2015, Abrapa has led the Sou de Algodão movement, to show consumers how the fiber reaches them — Photo: Abrapa / Disclosure
The movement gave rise to the traceability initiative SoABR, which, through blockchain technology, tracks pieces of clothing, from the planting of certified cotton to the sale of the final product, so that the consumer is sure of the origin of what he is purchasing and what impact this purchase has had on the environment, in society and the economy. The certified raw material makes it possible to map the path taken from the planted seed to the wardrobe, showing the increasing care taken with sustainability at every step of the way.
From cultivation to store: the cotton chain
The land is worked for the cultivation of cotton. With harvests only once a year, the plants grow, bloom and the bolls are harvested and directed to the processing stage.
In the cotton plant (benefiting plant), everything starts with the dismantling of the roll that comes from the plantation for the ginning and cleaning of all the impurities of the lint. Subsequently, bales of, on average, 220 kg are pressed, and two samples are separated, one on each side, for the respective analysis of intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of the processed cotton. Then, the Abrapa Identification System (SAI) barcode is issued, which guarantees 100% traceability of Brazilian cotton.
After being produced and processed, the cotton arrives at the spinning mill to be transformed into yarn. From here, the fiber begins to transform.
knitting and weaving
At this stage, the yarn joins in wefts, forming the fabric that will be used in the making of final pieces. Textures, patterns and colors are worked on, kick-starting the creative process of designers and stylists.
It is in clothing that cotton becomes useful: with the creativity of stylists and seamstresses, final pieces are produced with varied designs.
At points of sale, the pieces meet the final consumer. That’s where you choose, combine, increment and decide how and when that piece will be used.
*The journalist traveled at the invitation of the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers (Abrapa)