As a developing country, India is working towards a brighter future through sustainable development. In the past few years, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion worked on a project to introduce sustainable textiles in India. Partnering with the Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affiars (Defra), the project worked to introduce ecological textiles in India, position India into the sustainable textiles market and enable India to trade eco-friendly textiles to retailers in the United Kingdom.
A second project was initiated to revamp the Indian dye houses in order to make them more eco-friendly. From 2009 through 2011, Color Connections Ltd. worked with the Indian dye houses that supply the UK market to reduce the environmental impact of the houses.
Women in a village in India pick the cotton crops. PC: CNN
These projects are examples of the progress India is making in sustainable development and agriculture. India’s production of textiles accounts for 14% of its production and 17% of the country’s exports. India exports its textiles worldwide, and according to Defra’s Sustainable Clothing Roadmap, while India’s textile export industry is an economic success story that grosses over $500 billion, the industry has a serious environmental and social footprint associated with its supply chain.
An assessment was done to find out exactly what India’s environmental impact was before it moved towards sustainable development. Researchers assessed its use of water, its greenhouse gas emissions and its chemical pollution. It was determined that Indian cotton was the worst offender of all the textiles.
Indian cotton accounts for 16% of the world’s production and provides jobs for 40 to 50 million people (Hussain, 2010). However, the cotton industry is known to use large quantities of water and chemicals during the process.
An organic cotton farmer carries a bale of cotton. PC: Greta Blue
India is now offering fair trade, organic cotton and has emerged as the second least expensive producer of organic cotton behind Tanzania. The fair trade and organic combination appeals to retailers abroad because it is good for marketing.
The Maikaal Project worked to transform the way cotton was being produced in India. It helped to lessen the agricultural impact on the environment as well as yield higher profits for the farmers by substituting synthetic fertilizers and pesticides with organic farming techniques. In 2005, Maikaal bioRe® was established in central India and the initiative set up 1500 small farms and produced 1,000 tons of cotton.
An organic farm from the Maikaal Project in central India. Photo Credit: ETH
Though there are still several issues to overcome, the future for sustainable development in India is promising. By switching to eco-friendly agriculture, the farmers are likely to yield more profit from the crops while reducing their impact on the environment.
Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs, (2009). Sustainable clothing roadmap: Summary of Defra commissioned projects under the sustainable clothing action plan. Retrieved from: http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/products/roadmaps/documents/summary-projects-sustain-clothing-ap.pdf
Hussain, A. (2010). Sustainable textiles for fashion from India. Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs. Retrieved from: http://sd.defra.gov.uk/2010/09/sustainable-textiles-for-fashion-from-india/
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, (2011). The impact of organic cotton cultivation on the livelihood of Indian smallholders. Research Fellowship Partnership Programme. Retrieved from: http://www.rfpp.ethz.ch/fellowships/concluded_fellowships/organiccotton