COVID-19 and the Organic Cotton Farming Sector in Madhya Pradesh, India, in 2020

Varsha Ranjit
Cotton farmers in India
Photo credit: Dinesh Khanna for Laudes Foundation

The cotton farming industry in India employs 45 million people, and India is one of the largest organic cotton producers in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic led to nationwide lockdowns and caused supply chain disruptions in India which affected the nascent organic cotton farming sector in the country.

COVID safety awareness meeting in India
COVID safety awareness meeting
Photo credit: ASA

This AIR-funded study explores the resilience of small holder organic cotton farmers in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and documents the strategies adopted by organic cotton supply chain actors in India to minimize the negative effects of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In collaboration with our partner Outline India, we gathered perspectives from farmers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and supply chain actors, many of whom were supported by the Laudes Foundation to stimulate organic cotton farming in the region.

Key Findings

The pandemic has destroyed my life and other farmers in the village. We do not have money to buy food and other essential items and there is a shortage of ration and food items in the market. There is a shortage of money and there was no transportation available to even sell the cotton and markets were closed.
– Organic cotton farmer

We found that the COVID-19 pandemic and March 2020 lockdown limited market access for many organic cotton farmers, and some farmers had to sell organic cotton at a lower price than expected. Purchasing agreements with organic brands were key to guaranteeing premiums for organic cotton farmers. Further, the pandemic caused food shortages and increased food prices for farmers. NGOs and government agencies conducted emergency distribution of food and hygiene items during lockdown, serving as a lifeline for many farmers we interviewed. In addition, NGOs supported by the Laudes Foundation successfully developed strategies to deliver seeds and virtual technical assistance to farmers during lockdown. However, access to non-GMO seeds and onerous certification processes remain enduring challenges.

Going forward, the organic cotton industry should continue to strengthen brand agreements and develop risk mitigation mechanisms to protect farmers. Further, the industry should consider developing strategies to simplify certification processes and increase access to non-GMO seeds.

Paula Dias
Senior Researcher
Image of Thomas de Hoop
Managing Economist and Program Area Lead, Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition