7/24/18 – This blog post is written by the co-founders of an organic cotton startup in Peru: Kelsey, Jennifer, and Monika. They are students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University.
Initially when we began our research, we were looking to integrate sustainability in the textile supply chain. It became apparent that many of the harmful impacts occurred while procuring the raw materials for the textiles. This led our team to explore the use of a more beneficial fiber alternative. Half of the garments worldwide are made with cotton or a blend of the fiber. However, the process of producing cotton is heavy on the use of pesticides, electricity, water and chemicals that can severely affect the health of the environment and humans. This inspired the team to explore organic cotton as a sustainable alternative. And we ended up in Peru because there is unrealized potential with Peruvian cotton, which is a native plant of the country.
Peru is known for having some of the best quality cotton in the world. They struggle, however, to compete within the industry. Peru also has the capacity to have a vertically integrated supply chain. So we were left wondering, what can we do to provide more market access for this amazing product?
In the field, we have learned that there are several predominant reasons that cotton production has declined over the last twenty years. The main reasons include:
- lack of political support
- farmers transitioning to higher value crops, and
- the rise of overseas competition
One of the most enlightening interviews in the field was with a thread manufacturer. The manufacturer indicated to us that in the Piura region, water is extremely cheap which encouraged farmers to switch to rice farming. Piura is an arid region, and rice is a thirsty crop. The lack of long-term planning among the farmers paired with the lack of incentives from the government has plummeted the rates of conventional cotton in this region and made organic production nearly nonexistent. However, additional field research with the leading organic cotton producer in Peru, Bergman Rivera, has provided the team with key insights into how organic cotton could make a comeback in Peru.
Currently Bergman Rivera is finding success by providing an internal support system for farmers that assists with financial access and organic training methods. Their close relationship with the farmers has helped differentiate them from the competition in Peru. In the coming weeks, the team will continue investigating the potential for organic cotton in Peru by traveling to the Piura region and doing field research with conventional and organic cotton farmers. Field research has allowed the team to understand – on a much deeper level – the vast concerns that currently exist in the Peruvian cotton industry. This complicated industry would have been impossible to fully understand from just sitting in a classroom. We look forward to sharing additional learning and progress in our next post, so watch for our updates soon!