“Buying organic cotton is a simple way that we can contribute to reducing the impacts of climate change, as amongst other things, organic cotton is proven to save and protect water resources and reduce carbon emissions.”

-Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association

Conventional Cotton vs. Organic Cotton: What's the Difference?

Most of People Tree's collection is made with 100% organic cotton. Learn why People Tree picks organic cotton.


Conventional Cotton

Conventional cotton farming relies on pesticides derived from petrochemicals. Only 2.5% of the world’s farmland is used to grow cotton, yet 10% of all chemical pesticides and 22% of all insecticides are sprayed on conventional cotton.

The chemicals used on conventional common have harmful impacts:

  1. Environmental destruction: Heavy pesticide use reduces biodiversity, disrupts ecosystems and contaminates water supplies. Pests exposed to synthetic pesticides build up a resistance to them. As a result, each year farmers have to buy and use more pesticides to grow the same amount of cotton. This increases the damage to the environment.
  2. Spiral of debt: As pests build up resistance to chemicals, farmers must borrow money to buy more chemicals than before. Farmers end up caught in a spiral of debt. In India, agricultural chemicals may cost up to 60% of a farmers production budget. In Maharashtra alone, the government estimates that over 1,000 farmers have committed suicide since 2001 because they were irrevocably in debt.
  3. Harmful to health: Many chemicals used in cotton farming are toxic. The World Trade Organisation estimates 20,000 deaths and three million chronic health problems each year are the result of the use of agricultural pesticides in developing countries.
  4. Wastes water: Conventional cotton farming also uses vast amounts of precious water. The Aral Sea has almost disappeared as the water courses that flowed into it have been diverted to grow ‘white gold' in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This has been catastrophic for the fishing and farming industries in those countries.

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton farming is not only less destructive to the environment, but provides better income for farmers and is sustainable long term.

  1. Environmentally friendly: Organic cotton farming uses natural pesticides made with chili, neem, garlic and soap. This keeps pests off the crops without affecting biodiversity. Organic cotton farmers grow secondary crops, including tomatoes, aubergines, sunflowers and millet, between small plots of cotton. The extra foliage creates a natural barrier against pests. The secondary crops may also provide a supplementary source of income and food. In contrast to conventional methods, organic farming actually promotes biodiversity: organic cotton fields contain a significantly higher number of insect species, especially those that are beneficial.
  2. Farmer friendly: Conscious consumers are prepared to pay a bit more for the quality and provenance of organic cotton. That's why we can pay our organic cotton farmers a 30% premium above conventional cotton prices. We also commit to buying the cotton before the crop is grown, so farmers have security of income too. Our cotton is produced by a group called Agrocel in Gujarat, India, which works with 20,000 small-scale farmers, using Fair Trade principles to support them in the conversion to organic farming. We think that makes organic cotton all the more worth the extra money.
  3. Sustainable: Unlike conventional cotton farming, our organic cotton is largely rain-fed. The soils are fertilised with natural organic materials, which help to give the soil higher humus content. This makes for soil that is better able to retain moisture and its fertility. Organic cotton production reduces water pollution impact by 98%. Organic cotton farming combats climate change. It uses less energy, plus healthy organic soil stores more carbon reducing the release of CO2.