Turkey: an organic cotton pioneer

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Turkey has a rich tradition in textiles and a well-earned reputation for quality. This reputation rests, partly, on one of the country’s main natural resources: cotton. Turkey is one of the largest producers of cotton in the world, and the second largest producer of organic cotton. A lot of its cotton is long-staple, which means that the length of the fibre is long. This makes it very valuable for textiles, as long-staple fibre tends to lead to softer, smoother fabric.

I visited Turkey in May of this year to participate in the Textile Exchange’s conference on organic cotton. The conference included panel discussions and visits to organic cotton farms, and gave me valuable insight into the organic cotton sector in Turkey. One of the things I learned was that the Turkish government is taking organic agriculture very seriously and is investing in it as part of a sustainable development initiative. In keeping with its promotion of sustainable agriculture, it has banned the sale of GMO seeds throughout the country, which means that Turkish farmers do not suffer the problem faced by Indian farmers of GMO seed blowing into their fields.

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The country-wide ban on GMO seeds has given Turkish organic cotton a reputation for authenticity, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that Turkish organic cotton is better than, say, Indian organic cotton. The potential for contamination by GMO seeds is a real problem facing organic farmers in India, but their efforts to stem the tide of GMOs are worth supporting as their farms represent some of the last bastions of biodiversity in the country. Even if organic fields are contaminated by GMO seed, the organic farming techniques, such as crop rotation and organic fertiliser, still play an important role in supporting soil health and biodiversity.

While Turkish farms are less likely to be growing GMO crops, their fields - at least the ones I visited - seemed less diverse than the fields I have visited in India. Turkish organic farmers do practise crop rotation, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of crop diversity at any one time, with rows and rows of cotton plants in contrast to the patchwork of different crops that make up the Indian farms I have visited. There may be good reasons for this, but it is certainly a major difference between Turkish and Indian farms.

Organic agriculture adheres to a common set of standards worldwide, but how it is practised differs according to the region, with each one having its own set of benefits. In India, the social impact and farm-level biodiversity can be very high; in Turkey, the governmental regulation and efficiency of the sector are big pluses. At Ecosophy, we believe both Turkish and Indian farmers are worth supporting, and we have set up supply relationships with both. In Turkey, we have partnered with a GOTS-certified factory in the West of the country, which sources its cotton from an organic farming cooperative in the Aegean region - an area known to produce the highest quality cotton in Turkey. The factory is also a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which works toward fair, safe and ethical working conditions for textile workers.

I visited the factory during my trip to Turkey in May and was really impressed by the working conditions. The factory was clean and airy, and didn’t have the smell of chemicals that is often found in textile factories. The workers seemed content and the atmosphere overall was professional but relaxed. I left with a high level of confidence in this factory and I look forward to working with it in the future.

We are currently working with this factory to produce a range of organic cotton jersey bedding. To shop the collection, click here.

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Ecosophy