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jdavis

Zimbabwe cotton and the Mugabe regime

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Zimbabwe cotton, touted as some of the best in the world by such denim makers as 45rpm and Prps, is a product of Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime. As the nation's sole ruler since ‘87, he’s crippled the economy with a 4 billion dollar debt, prevented UN aide, fallen short of IMF goals and seemingly done nothing to combat the negative population growth. A quarter of his country is infected with HIV/AIDS and won’t live past the age of 40. This is some very disturbing news.

If Prps places a Zimbabwe flag on their tees and other fashion, they should make a point of saying how they can guarantee that their dollars do more than fund Mugabe’s bar tab at the Harare cricket club.

As far as cotton quality is concerned, I’m not convinced that Zimbabwe cotton is the best in the world either, or even superior to USA/Egypt ELS (extra-long-staple) yarns. Zimbabwe cotton seems more likely to a cheaper alternative for Japan – which I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with if someone could tell me exactly why it was wasn’t making life in Zimbabwe worse.

I've been thinking about this for a some time and I’d really like to hear from anyone who’d like to comment – anyone who has similar feelings, and of course anyone who thinks entirely differently…

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Thanks for the post. its great to hear that someone actually wonders where their money is going when they buy something. My guess is that it isn't any better, or may be slightly better than cotton from other regions of the world, but i am guessing that it is quite cheaper.

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i am in no means trying to call u out on ur knowledge or anything, but do you really tell which cotton is better, and how can u measure the quality? and what's so good about zimbabwe cotton anywayz?

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You know what, i've wondered about the superiority of zimbabwe cotton. Why is it better? and if it is, why can't the species be harvested in some other 3rd world country where labor laws are nonexistent?

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As far as I care, the cotton industry gives jobs to starving Zimbabweans.

http://www.fullcount.co.jp/eng/create/c-cre-te.html

Quote: When we say 'cotton', there are so many types. Some are for mass production, and some are for high-class goods.

Cotton that is double cropped in a year is considered mainstream as we know it today. Single cropped cotton has scarcity value, that is used only for high-class goods like dresses and shirts. Needless to say, most jeans you see are made from double cropped cotton. Generally, using single cropped cotton for jeans is supposed to be too exclusive.

But in the 1940s (Birth of jeans) Americans did not double-crop. For higher quality of jeans, we at FULLCOUNT use single cropped cotton. Naturally, the single cropped cotton grows bigger than the double cropped cotton.

For this reason, we are able to spin a long fine thread. With a long fine thread, we make low volume cloths, which doesn't need to be twisted so many times, meaning a long fine thread can create cloths that are very soft, light and also durable.

FULLCOUNT uses Zimbabwean cotton, the highest class in the single cropped cotton. Using 100% highest quality natural materials, we achieve this quality and comfortability to wear and wear well .

(...)

We have direct contact with jeans and our skin.

Sweat and grime from the body penetrate the inner side of jeans. Another good point of jeans is absorbency.

Even during minor perspiration, wasing them is unnecessary for up to one week.

For this reason, jeans must be highly absorbent. Zimbabwean cotton has higher absorbency than the other cotton that requires tight twists making it very hard.

In addition, when you wash FULLCOUNT jeans, you can remove high quantities of dirt because of its easy twisted thread.

Therefore, you can wear them over andover again, and still enjoy a refreshing touch every time you wash them...that is the result of using high quality natural materials, which maximizes the life of the jeans.

Edited by Geowu on Dec 20, 2005 at 09:00 PM

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Africa is not an easy spot to figure out. Charity money gets spent on Land Rovers. The people should most likely be growing corn to feed themsleves, instead of cotton.

I reccomend the book Dark Star Safari for those interested in Africa.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0618446877/qid=1135139530/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-1814042-2740700?n=507846&s=books&v=glance

To me: Zimbabwean cotton is a bit of a throwback item, like natural indigo. Zimbabwean cotton was used in classic Lee jeans.

Edited by Roland on Dec 20, 2005 at 09:41 PM

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Excellent thoughts on a specific topic that's been in my mind for a while, too. But it's almost impossible to live life in the current world with this mentality, as the trade agreements and distribution systems that shape us as consumers across the board are complex issues ... as a layman the only option I figure you really have - especially when dealing as you are here with luxury nonessential commodities - are to keep a short account of yourself and not buy products that you don't feel comfortable with on your conscience. For whatever reason, whether it's political motivations, agricultural concerns, or human exploitation that are on your mind.

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I think the cotton industry is good for Zimbabweans. Some of them (poor people) manufacture t-shirts out of it and sell it, some use the cotton discarded to recycle and produce other artisanal goods. I believe that it is better for them to have a job than not having one. And jobs there must surely be a problem. Zimbabwe is the country with the worst income distribution, one of the poorest in the world. I think any exports they can make is a benefit.

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Pros for Zimbabwean cotton:

-Organically grown

-provides employment/income for African workers & farmers

Quality these days is somewhat debatable but the above reasons are the two major points being touted by the industry. At one time however Zimbabwe cotton was being touted as one of the finest cottons available in the world.

Edited by Circa on Dec 20, 2005 at 11:58 PM

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I just felt that Zimbabwe cotton should be de-mystified, as recently its been used without being really being substantiated. There’s a perception that Zimbabwe cotton comes from the beautiful Zimbabwe plains, where under the warming light of the African sun, farmers lovingly craft the best quality cotton in the world, using only the most traditional means.

Here are a few points from a 2002 Zimbabwe Cotton report for PAN UK’s Pesticides and Poverty project:

SZ 9314, FQ 902 and BC 853 were the most popular engineered species of cotton seeds used at the time.

“Of all crops grown in the country, the cotton sub-sector is the single, largest consumer of agricultural chemicals [, including Carbaryl, Thiodan/Thionex, Fenkil/Fenvaleate, Rogor/Dimethoate, Oncol].â€

It’s an estimate that at the time of the report that the breakeven point for a Zimbabwe cotton farmer was Z$25/kg (less than 1 USD). However most offerings fell between Z$22-23/kg. Farmers continue to farm cotton because what else are they to do?

There was also a small segment on suicide using pesticides.

http://www.pan-uk.org/Cotton/Zimbabwe.pdf

The report does talk about the growing organic cotton sector, which is certainly a good step, but it is still a small part of Zimbabwe’s overall cotton production.

Granted this report is several yeas old [and of course assuming that it is indeed true] , but considering that Zimbabwe is in much the same place now as it was then, could the lives of cotton farmers have improved all that much? In 2002 Mugabe rigged the election so he could stay in power. A year later opposition groups stages strikes, leading to the brutal deployment of security forces using from what I’ve read – inhumane means of suppression.

Also, Zimbabwe cotton production is divided between 2 large corporations: Cottco and Cargill. Cottco is controlled by the government and Cargill is a private company that doesn’t have to be as public with its methods and standards.

In a country where the average age is 20 and the life expectancy is roughly twice that – a little more for men and a little less for women – it would be nice to know exactly where the cotton export dollars are going, and maybe even another reminder why the cotton is just right for jeans

Roland - thanks for recommending that book. I'll go pick it up when I have a chance!

Sauce - tell you the truth I'm not even sure if organic is better in terms of quality. I get the

feeling that its more of a feelgood lifestyle choice. Garbage in Garbage out - so

therefore organic would have to be better. Something like that I'm sure.

Edited by jdavis on Dec 21, 2005 at 08:59 AM

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Organic cotton pertains to "organically grown". This entails that the said crop is grown using only natural farming techniques, and not using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or genetically modified strains of the crop itself (GMOs). All of which are fairly major moral/ethical concerns for you as a consumer. If the above post is to be believed then no not all of the cotton being grown currently in Zimbabwe is organic. In addition to what has already been stated, part of the original allure of Zimbabwean cotton is that 4-5 years ago their cotton crops were largely uncontaminated (by cross-breeding other strains of cotton) compared to those found in other parts of the world. This all changed when a company called Monsanto introduced several strains of gm cotton to Zimbabwe which have since contaminated the local species, and quality has degraded ever since.

Edited by Circa on Dec 22, 2005 at 12:24 AM

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Circa- when you say degraded, what does that mean? Is it less strong, more strong, less flexible, less easy to pick up indigo color . . . what?

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Maybe it's not that long... I think in cotton it all comes to fiber length.

jdavis, you're saying that Zimbabwean cotton is being explored and not well paid for?

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The history behind the degradation of Zimbabwe's cotton species is a little complex but I'll attempt to explain it.

Past Zimbabwean cotton species yielded many unique and fine quality cottons that were created through the selective breeding of cotton plants by Zimbabwean farmers over many years. Sometime in the mid-90's biotech company Monsanto successfully engineered (and patented) several crop species which were genetically modified to produce their own form of natural pesticide (Bt). This had the effect of making the plants more resistant to predation by insects and thus less reliant on chemical pesticides. Many subsequent crop species were in fact very successful and have benefited quite highly from this form of genetic modification. Bt corn is an example of this. However, in regards to Monsanto's patented Bt cotton, the cotton yielded by the plants is widely regarded as being inferior in quality to that of the Zimbabwean varieties. Zimbabwe naturally imposed a moratorium on the importation of the plants due to fears of contamination of the local cotton species' gene pool (through interbreeding) and also to protect the interests of local growers/farmers whom companies like Monsanto might seek to exploit. This in fact had already occurred with cotton crops throughout the world, which was also part of the reason behind the demand for Zimbabwe's uncontaminated cotton. However, Monsanto being the "generous" company that they are, took it upon themselves to smuggle the plants illegally into Zimbabwe as they had already done in other countries such as India. The plants naturally cross pollinated with local species (air-borne pollination is notoriously difficult to control because pollen can travel 100's of km's) and here we have the situation we've arrived at today where now even Zimbabwean cotton is showing increasing contamination and thus degradation of cotton quality.

IMO if you are looking to make a difference as a consumer, organic is the right decision for numerous reasons.

-it promotes sustainable farming methods or those which are less harmful to the environment

-it supports private and small scale farmers

-it does not rely on exploitive corporations like Monsanto

Cotton itself is graded on many features, contamination being one of them. Others however include properties of the fibre itself such as: color, spinning ability, strength, fineness, dyeing ability, uniformity of length etc. In the case of Zimbabwe's cotton many of these factors have been regarded as being somewhat reduced in quality recently. However I should state that I'm no expert in regards to cotton spinning.

Edited by Circa on Dec 22, 2005 at 01:35 PM

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Quote:

Maybe it's not that long... I think in cotton it all comes to fiber length.

jdavis, you're saying that Zimbabwean cotton is being explored and not well paid for?

--- Original message by Geowu on Dec 21, 2005 11:26 PM

Geowu, I was referring to an apparent deficit:

Z$25/kg to breakeven, but most puchases by Cottco and Cargill and presumambly anyone else involved in exporting cotton out of Zimbabwe fell between Z$22-23/kg. And at the time of that PAN UK report, most cotton farmers accepted less money for their cotton as they didn’t really have a choice.

I did want to say though that I agree with your posts about giving jobs to the poor and starving. In fact, since cotton was and I believe still is Zimbabwe’s chief export, than its probably the best job to have.

But that said, - and I agree with you Sybaritical – it IS a complicated issue – AIDS epidemic, a relentless dictator, almost non-existent human rights – an issue I’m sure will take generations to disappear. And of course the trade agreements and so forth that you mentioned. Zimbabwe cotton might indeed be of high quality, and the industry certainly gives some means of a job to people that otherwise might starve, but there’s much more than just that. I hope for everyones sake that the Zimbabwe cotton trade doesn't develop on the same lines as conflict diamonds in Angola and Sierra Leone...

I’ve about had it with the ‘we use the best cotton in the world’ line that everyone is using. Cotton so good that they can’t tell us anything about it. I think so too Denim R – it IS rubbish.

I think denim manufactures that use Zimbabwe cotton should have an obligation to promote safe and sustainable farming in Zimbabwe, and of course ensuring that their dollars make it to the farmers that need it most. Otherwise, it seems like they’re just preying on poor people with nothing to loose.

Edited by jdavis on Dec 22, 2005 at 08:57 AM

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I don't feel guilty buying jeans that uses Zimbabwe cotton. If Iron Heart, 45 RPM, PRPS says't it's the best, I take their word for it. I just wont' buy Ivory, leopard fur or blood diamond for that matter. Reality is, all of Africa is corrupt. Of course, just look at our own backyard and see if theres no corruption in Washington. We paid a big price on lives and money. We had a surplus and now a dismal deficit. I'd like to know where all the our money went from a surplus to a dismal deficit--think Haliburton, Bechtel and all these companies that has 'exclusive' rights to rebuilding an old civilazation far, far away.

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This is a complexed issue; not brushed off by some jerk comment.

I lived in Zimbabwe for a little more than year [back in 1996] and have a lot of family tied to the land. My grandparents and my uncle are still living there today under the seemingly hopeless conditions. Two-years ago, my mother's close friend was killed with her family on their farm during the land reform take overs, in which Mugabe ordered the takeover and return of all white farmers land to Africans. My grandparents have lost all of their farm land, were they once farmed bananas and crocodiles. Today the land is bare, without proper training the Africans are unable to care for the land and the crops die.

What people fail to see is that Zimbabwe is not just another poor African country, it has not been until recent years have we seen it become the poorest. One Zimbabwean dollar was worth sixty-seven US cents in late 1979. In 1999, one US dollar was worth Z$40. In August 2002, the figure was about Z$700. It doubled in the next three months, to about Z$1500 in October 2002.

Mugabe has espoused pan-Africanism and African independence and unity, all the while responsible for mishandling of land reforms, economic mismanagement, and a deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Lining up for basic staple foods & gas, useless currency, wildlife being poached to extinction. This destruction of a once beautiful place is very hard to stomach, it is really sad to see it go. I hope one day I will feel safe enough to go back there.

As for buying Zimbabwean Cotton, if you knowingly are directly supporting a corrupt government for some jeans, good for you. But dont for one second make yourself believe that your providing a better life or job for some one in Zimbabwe.

Sorry for the length, I could go on for days, but this just struck a chord.

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it does not rely on exploitive corporations like Monsanto

Edited by Circa on Dec 22, 2005 at 01:35 PM

I understand several of your points about buying organic, but please don't try to disregard the whole biotechnology field and GMO's with your one example.

There are too many ill informed consumers AND activists running around making false claims about many potentially helpful GMO's. No, you're not getting cancer from eating a genetically modified tomato. No your DNA isn't going to mutate because your food's DNA was altered. People blindly protest some things they don't understand, and it's seriously hampering scientific progress. I'm not referring to you Circa in reference to ignorance about GMO's, you seem informed. I'm referring to PETA zealots, Hippy Nazi's, and any other extremist group blinded by its agenda. Make information based choices, do the research.

Anyway, thanks for the insight into the whole Zimbabwe cotton issue. I've been wondering about the whole situation for a while

(eh just saw i was replying to an old old post)

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-it promotes sustainable farming methods or those which are less harmful to the environment

-it supports private and small scale farmers

-it does not rely on exploitive corporations like Monsanto

Edited by Circa on Dec 22, 2005 at 01:35 PM

Very interesting article about the same kinds of issues in relation to food in the economist a couple of months ago. Not ENTIRELY on topic but I think it does relate:

HAS the supermarket trolley dethroned the ballot box? Voter turnout in most developed countries has fallen in recent decades, but sales of organic, Fairtrade and local food—each with its own political agenda—are growing fast. Such food allows shoppers to express their political opinions, from concern for the environment to support for poor farmers, every time they buy groceries. And shoppers are jumping at the opportunity, says Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University and the author of “Food Politics†(2002) and “What to Eat†(2006). “What I hear as I talk to people is this phenomenal sense of despair about their inability to do anything about climate change, or the disparity between rich and poor,†she says. “But when they go into a grocery store they can do something—they can make decisions about what they are buying and send a very clear message.â€

Those in the food-activism movement agree. “It definitely has a positive effect,†says Ian Bretman of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO) International, the Fairtrade umbrella group. Before the advent of ethical and organic labels, he notes, the usual way to express political views using food was to impose boycotts. But such labels make a political act out of consumption, rather than non-consumption—which is far more likely to produce results, he suggests. “That's how you build effective, constructive engagement with companies. If you try to do a boycott or slag them off as unfair or evil, you won't be able to get them round the table.â€

Consumers have more power than they realise, says Chris Wille of the Rainforest Alliance, a conservation group. “They are at one end of the supply chain, farmers are at the other, and consumers really do have the power to send a message back all the way through that complicated supply chain,†he explains. “If the message is frequent, loud and consistent enough, then they can actually change practices, and we see that happening on the ground.â€

The $30 billion organic-food industry “was created by consumers voting with their dollars,†says Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore's Dilemma†(2006), another of this year's crop of books on food politics. Normally, he says, a sharp distinction is made between people's actions as citizens, in which they are expected to consider the well-being of society, and their actions as consumers, which are assumed to be selfish. Food choices appear to reconcile the two.

How green is your organic lettuce?

Yet even an apparently obvious claim—that organic food is better for the environment than the conventionally farmed kind—turns out to be controversial. There are many different definitions of the term “organicâ€, but it generally involves severe restrictions on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and a ban on genetically modified organisms. Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, Britain's leading organic lobby group, says that environmental concerns, rather than health benefits, are now cited by British consumers as their main justification for buying organic food. (There is no clear evidence that conventional food is harmful or that organic food is nutritionally superior.)

But not everyone agrees that organic farming is better for the environment. Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolutionâ€, winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous†because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food. Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, Mr Borlaug points out, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

What of the claim that organic farming is more energy-efficient? Lord Melchett points out for example that the artificial fertiliser used in conventional farming is made using natural gas, which is “completely unsustainableâ€. But Anthony Trewavas, a biochemist at the University of Edinburgh, counters that organic farming actually requires more energy per tonne of food produced, because yields are lower and weeds are kept at bay by ploughing. And Mr Pollan notes that only one-fifth of the energy associated with food production across the whole food chain is consumed on the farm: the rest goes on transport and processing.

The most environmentally benign form of agriculture appears to be “no till†farming, which involves little or no ploughing and relies on cover crops and carefully applied herbicides to control weeds. This makes it hard to combine with organic methods (though some researchers are trying). Too rigid an insistence on organic farming's somewhat arbitrary rules, then—copper, a heavy metal, can be used as an organic fungicide because it is traditional—can actually hinder the adoption of greener agricultural techniques. Alas, shoppers look in vain for “no till†labels on their food—at least so far.

Fair enough

What about Fairtrade? Its aim is to address “the injustice of low prices†by guaranteeing that producers receive a fair price “however unfair the conventional market isâ€, according to FLO International's website. In essence, it means paying producers an above-market “Fairtrade†price for their produce, provided they meet particular labour and production standards. In the case of coffee, for example, Fairtrade farmers receive a minimum of $1.26 per pound for their coffee, or $0.05 above the market price if it exceeds that floor. This premium is passed back to the producers to spend on development programmes. The market for Fairtrade products is much smaller than that for organic products, but is growing much faster: it increased by 37% to reach €1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) in 2005. Who could object to that?

Economists, for a start. The standard economic argument against Fairtrade goes like this: the low price of commodities such as coffee is due to overproduction, and ought to be a signal to producers to switch to growing other crops. Paying a guaranteed Fairtrade premium—in effect, a subsidy—both prevents this signal from getting through and, by raising the average price paid for coffee, encourages more producers to enter the market. This then drives down the price of non-Fairtrade coffee even further, making non-Fairtrade farmers poorer. Fairtrade does not address the basic problem, argues Tim Harford, author of “The Undercover Economist†(2005), which is that too much coffee is being produced in the first place. Instead, it could even encourage more production.

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Mr Bretman of FLO International disagrees. In practice, he says, farmers cannot afford to diversify out of coffee when the price falls. Fairtrade producers can use the premiums they receive to make the necessary investments to diversify into other crops. But surely the price guarantee actually reduces the incentive to diversify?

Another objection to Fairtrade is that certification is predicated on political assumptions about the best way to organise labour. In particular, for some commodities (including coffee) certification is available only to co-operatives of small producers, who are deemed to be most likely to give workers a fair deal when deciding how to spend the Fairtrade premium. Coffee plantations or large family firms cannot be certified. Mr Bretman says the rules vary from commodity to commodity, but are intended to ensure that the Fairtrade system helps those most in need. Yet limiting certification to co-ops means “missing out on helping the vast majority of farm workers, who work on plantations,†says Mr Wille of the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies producers of all kinds.

Guaranteeing a minimum price also means there is no incentive to improve quality, grumble coffee-drinkers, who find that the quality of Fairtrade brews varies widely. Again, the Rainforest Alliance does things differently. It does not guarantee a minimum price or offer a premium but provides training, advice and better access to credit. That consumers are often willing to pay more for a product with the RA logo on it is an added bonus, not the result of a formal subsidy scheme; such products must still fend for themselves in the marketplace. “We want farmers to have control of their own destinies, to learn to market their products in these competitive globalised markets, so they are not dependent on some NGO,†says Mr Wille.

But perhaps the most cogent objection to Fairtrade is that it is an inefficient way to get money to poor producers. Retailers add their own enormous mark-ups to Fairtrade products and mislead consumers into thinking that all of the premium they are paying is passed on. Mr Harford calculates that only 10% of the premium paid for Fairtrade coffee in a coffee bar trickles down to the producer. Fairtrade coffee, like the organic produce sold in supermarkets, is used by retailers as a means of identifying price-insensitive consumers who will pay more, he says.

As with organic food, the Fairtrade movement is under attack both from outsiders who think it is misguided and from insiders who think it has sold its soul. In particular, the launch by Nestlé, a food giant, of Partners' Blend, a Fairtrade coffee, has convinced activists that the Fairtrade movement is caving in to big business. Nestlé sells over 8,000 non-Fairtrade products and is accused of exploiting the Fairtrade brand to gain favourable publicity while continuing to do business as usual. Mr Bretman disagrees. “We felt it would not be responsible to turn down an opportunity to do something that would practically help hundreds or thousands of farmers,†he says. “You are winning the battle if you get corporate acceptance that these ideas are important.†He concedes that the Fairtrade movement's supporters are “a very broad church†which includes anti-globalisation and anti-corporate types. But they can simply avoid Nestlé's Fairtrade coffee and buy from smaller Fairtrade producers instead, he suggests.

Besides, this is how change usually comes about, notes Mr Pollan. The mainstream co-opts the fringe and shifts its position in the process; “but then you need people to stake out the fringe again.†That is what has happened with organic food in America, and is starting to happen with Fairtrade food too. “People are looking for the next frontier,†says Mr Pollan, and it already seems clear what that is: local food.

“Local is the new organic†has become the unofficial slogan of the local-food movement in the past couple of years. The rise of “Big Organicâ€, the large-scale production of organic food to meet growing demand, has produced a backlash and claims that the organic movement has sold its soul. Purists worry that the organic movement's original ideals have been forgotten as large companies that produce and sell organic food on an industrial scale have muscled in.

This partly explains why food bought from local producers either directly or at farmers' markets is growing in popularity, and why local-food advocates are now the keepers of the flame of the food-activism movement. Local food need not be organic, but buying direct from small farmers short-circuits industrial production and distribution systems in the same way that buying organic used to. As a result, local food appears to be immune to being industrialised or corporatised. Organic food used to offer people a way to make a “corporate protestâ€, says Mr Pollan, and now “local offers an alternative to that.â€

Think globally, act locally?

Buying direct means producers get a fair price, with no middlemen adding big margins along the distribution chain. Nor has local food been shipped in from the other side of the country or the other side of the world, so the smaller number of “food miles†makes local food greener, too. Local food thus appeals in different ways to environmentalists, national farm lobbies and anti-corporate activists, as well as consumers who want to know more about where their food comes from.

Obviously it makes sense to choose a product that has been grown locally over an identical product shipped in from afar. But such direct comparisons are rare. And it turns out that the apparently straightforward approach of minimising the “food miles†associated with your weekly groceries does not, in fact, always result in the smallest possible environmental impact.

The term “food mile†is itself misleading, as a report published by DEFRA, Britain's environment and farming ministry, pointed out last year. A mile travelled by a large truck full of groceries is not the same as a mile travelled by a sport-utility vehicle carrying a bag of salad. Instead, says Paul Watkiss, one of the authors of the DEFRA report, it is more helpful to think about food-vehicle miles (ie, the number of miles travelled by vehicles carrying food) and food-tonne miles (which take the tonnage being carried into account).

The DEFRA report, which analysed the supply of food in Britain, contained several counterintuitive findings. It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain. And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

Research carried out at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that producing dairy products, lamb, apples and onions in that country and shipping them to Britain used less energy overall than producing them in Britain. (Farming and processing in New Zealand is much less energy intensive.) And even if flying food in from the developing world produces more emissions, that needs to be weighed against the boost to trade and development.

There is a strand of protectionism and anti-globalisation in much local-food advocacy, says Gareth Edwards-Jones of the University of Wales. Local food lets farming lobbies campaign against imports under the guise of environmentalism. A common argument is that local food is fresher, but that is not always true: green beans, for example, are picked and flown to Britain from Kenya overnight, he says. People clearly want to think that they are making environmentally or socially optimal food choices, he says, but “we don't have enough evidence†to do so.

What should a shopper do? All food choices involve trade-offs. Even if organic farming does consume a little less energy and produce a little less pollution, that must be offset against lower yields and greater land use. Fairtrade food may help some poor farmers, but may also harm others; and even if local food reduces transport emissions, it also reduces potential for economic development. Buying all three types of food can be seen as an anti-corporate protest, yet big companies already sell organic and Fairtrade food, and local sourcing coupled with supermarkets' efficient logistics may yet prove to be the greenest way to move food around.

Food is central to the debates on the environment, development, trade and globalisation—but the potential for food choices to change the world should not be overestimated. The idea of saving the world by shopping is appealing; but tackling climate change, boosting development and reforming the global trade system will require difficult political choices. “We have to vote with our votes as well as our food dollars,†says Mr Pollan. Conventional political activity may not be as enjoyable as shopping, but it is far more likely to make a difference.

12324908554

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Mugabe has espoused pan-Africanism and African independence and unity, all the while responsible for mishandling of land reforms, economic mismanagement, and a deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Lining up for basic staple foods & gas, useless currency, wildlife being poached to extinction. This destruction of a once beautiful place is very hard to stomach, it is really sad to see it go. I hope one day I will feel safe enough to go back there.

As for buying Zimbabwean Cotton, if you knowingly are directly supporting a corrupt government for some jeans, good for you. But dont for one second make yourself believe that your providing a better life or job for some one in Zimbabwe.

In a country already so destabilized, it's hard to imagine boycotting a single luxury product would have a truly significant effect on the government via a loss of revenue. I don't know what percentage of cotton produced in Zimbabwe is purchased and used to produce items from Japanese luxury brands, but given the demand these brands themselves have, the loss of these cotton sales would not be such a horrible blow to the Zimbabwean government. If for the sake of your conscience you don't want a few pennies from your dollar potentially going to the state-owned cotton firm, then forego purchasing items from the aforementioned enterprises, but don't delude yourself into thinking you are effectuating change. Mugabe's dictatorship has held on in the face of internal and international pressure that far dwarfs any consumer-based cotton boycott. The US trade embargo with Cuba hasn't achieved its aim of toppling Castro; it has simply made life much much harder for the Cuban on the street. Granted, Castro may not have the economic liberties he once did, but he and those in his regime live far more luxuriously than 99% of the Cuban people. If I cared enough about Zimbabwe's problems personally, I would probably take a different route than not buying from Zimbabwean cotton producers, as this could potentially impact those working for those firms, and only indirectly and marginally impact Mugabe and his cronies...

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Economics and human rights aside, I thought the plus side of Zimbabwe cotton was that it was single crop and so had longer fibers to weave that extra slubby denim.

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wow, this is the best thread i've seen on this board in a while.

Circa, you posted about Monsanto providing growers in Zimbabwe with Bt cotton. For those who do not know, Bt is a natural pesticide (found in soil) that can be synthsized and is used often in ORGANIC farming. However, to genetically engineer a crop to produce Bt (as Monsanto has done with potatoes as well, read: NewLeaf potato) is not approved as an organic practice (for obvious reasons). In these cases, despite what may seem like "jobs for the poor" often the farmer has very few rights if any. the company buying the cotton sets prices that are fixed (essentially controlling product) and the company providing the seed (Monsanto) controls the farmers access to means of production. this happens to corn farmers in the US as well, however, govt. subsidy "supports" the US corn farmer (interestingly, making them, essentially, govt. employees as the subsidy is the ONLY way they can trun profit). My guess, and i am freely admitting that i don't know, is that the Zimbabwe govt. does not offer the kinds of subsidy given to american counterparts...so there's that.

In terms of the genetic engineering, the Federal Govt. considers anything producing its own pesticide a pesticide itself, rather than vegitation. This is the reason that the NewLeaf potato, which was used widely in large potato farms and bought exclusively by McDonalds, was eventually banned for large scale consumption in the US. However, the thign that protected the potato is that potatoes do not reproduce through flowering and seed, only from reused old potatoes, so it is impossible for a NewLeaf to transfer it's genes on to another cline and degenerate that cline as well. with cotton, a flowering plant which can cross-polenate, this is not the case, which is why a genetically engineered crop COULD pose a real problem in an environment that is not tightly controlled. Very interesting, plus Monsanto is evil.

EDIT: Also, the major concern organic farmers have with genetically engineered Bt plants is once intruduced into the environment it will over supply the given ecological niche with a pesticide that will eventually naturally select for insects with mutations resistant to said pesticide. Once this happens, and even Monsanto has admitted it's only a matter of time before it does, Bt will be rendered useless as a natural pesticide for organic crops. so supportingany country that allows Bt plants is probably not a great idea...

Also, everyone speaking to the longer fibers is correct, in part. This makes it easier to card consistant sliver/rover leading, potentially, to softer more evenly smooth yarn. the slub has nothing to do with this, as the slub comes during spinning.

jdavis. awesome thread. its always worth considering WHERE your products come from.

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mugabe sucks ass. i thin if he had done that in any other country there would have been military intervention.

just reading the very informative post above and i realised that i actually know the guy who is head of monsantos cotton department! maybe i can get us all some cheap jeans!

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