Thursday 6 September 2012

Food Or Clothes? The Argument Continues...

In an article back in March, The Price Of Cotton, I wrote about the impact that intensive cotton farming could have on the global economy, as more and more arable land is shifted from food to cash crops. It turns out that the figures I used to support the article may have been a little inflated.

So is it the case, as I asserted, that cotton uses up more land than food crops? Well, no, probably not. As a series of commenters made clear in response to the Guardian article I cited, the actual figure is closer to 4% than the 42% quoted in Pamela Ravasio's piece. 
Mother Jones made the most nuanced analysis of where Ravasio could have gone wrong. Other commentators saw the opportunity to give ethical fashion writers in general a bit of a kicking for a lack of individual rigour.

This is unfair, as although the figures in this particular example were wildly skewed, the general thrust of Ravasio's argument remains true. Global cotton production doubled between 1960 and 2001, and in Africa production spiked by a factor of ten. There is an ever-increasing demand for cheap, disposable clothing, and the fabric to make it has to come from somewhere. More and more land is being turned over to cotton to feed that demand, even as food prices reach an all-time global high. And let's not forget that the crop is environmentally damaging and heavy on scant resources.

If 42% of arable land was turned over to cotton production, that would be an environmental diaster. But even 4% is a figure that badly needs to start trending downwards if we are to keep the growing population of the world fed and healthy. Here at the Pier we stand by that position, even if some of our supporting documentation is a bit off.

We'd like to thank the anonymous commentator that pointed us in the right direction for this blog post.

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