The Bomao Ecological Agriculture Farm in Wuhan is one of the partnerships two organic cotton sites in China

The Bomao Ecological Agriculture Farm in Wuhan is one of the partnership's two organic cotton sites in China

In a bid to boost the supply of organic cotton in China, the corporate foundation affiliated with global retailer C&A, has partnered with C&A China and conservation partner Rare to help farmers grow more organic fibre.

The move follows a commitment by C&A China to use 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020. However, less than 0.2% of cotton currently grown in the country is organic, while restrictions mean organic cotton imported from other geographies cannot be labelled and sold as organic within China.

"So for brands to be able to label and sell cotton clothing as organic, the cotton has to be certified according to local standards," C&A Foundation says.  

The group has been working with farmers in India for two years to drive growth in organic cotton production, and says the results "have been impressive."

China is the world's second-largest producer of cotton after India. In 2015, Chinese farmers grew 5m metric tonnes of cotton, but just 13,000 tonnes were organic, according to figures from Textile Exchange.

C&A Foundation is working with Rare to help farmers convert to organic cotton production and create consumer demand for sustainable products.

In addition to teaching the principles and practices of organic farming, the initiative will explore opportunities to maximise the return on investment for farmers and bridge the initial costs of adoption, such as the potential market for complementary crops and cotton by-products like cottonseed oil.

While C&A Foundation admits farmers, especially smallholders, will initially need support as yields from organic production can be lower in the short term, it points out that over time the input costs for farmers are lower and the crop yield increases.

The partnership currently has two organic cotton sites in China, and to date the initiative has produced enough cotton for 20,000 pieces in C&A China's summer 2016 collection. It plans to increase output by a factor of five for next year.

To raise awareness of sustainable products, C&A China has launched its 'For the Planet' range of sustainable T-shirts, which has received "encouraging" feedback.