I recently traveled to India with the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) that developed a Fair Trade pilot standard for garment manufacturing. Basically, we were in India to meet with Fair Trade producers along the clothing supply chain. To my surprise, who I ended up meeting, more than 8,000 miles from my home, was a group that truly embodies what Green America means when we say green – the intersection of social justice with environmental sustainability.
Perhaps it was ignorant for me to assume that producers making poverty wages would not care about conserving natural resources and protecting the environment. After all, here in the States the term “environmentalist” and “affluent consumer” seem to be used interchangeably by some, and the producers we met in India were far from affluent. Well, we all know the truth about assumptions… they’re often wrong. What I learned from the cotton farmers, the artisans, and the factory workers we met during our trip was that they shared a deep concern about the environment, about climate change, and about the health of their communities.
In Mylaram, a village south of Hyderabad with about 250 cotton-farming households, we met a group of organic vegetable farmers, who are part of the Chetna Organic Farmers Association. What stood out, more than anything else, was the utter importance of organic farming methods for worker and community health.
In India, there is no monetary incentive to growing organic—the government subsidizes fertilizers. Plus organic farming requires much more intense and constant labor. And yet, these farmers were insistent on the benefits of organic farming, not only because it protected their community from exposure to harmful chemicals, but also because it gave them good, healthy food to eat.
The group told us about the pesticide-free food their parents had grown, and how it was so much healthier than the food grown in India today (largely from GMO seeds). They believed that non-organic food had been the cause of many of their community’s health problems. Now that these farmers have converted to organic their soil is much more fertile, their yields are consistence regardless of rainfall, and they have healthy, local food for their families to eat.
Unfortunately, the Indian market for organic food is still in its nascent stages. After these farmers feed their families, they sell their leftover produce at the market at conventional market prices, with no premium for their organic certification or extra labor. And STILL these farmers insist on organic farming. They have seen the negative effects of conventional farming on their soil, and on themselves, and it’s their goal to leave something better for their grandchildren.