The cost of cotton

It’s been a beautiful, exhausting, illuminating week in India - and now we’re off to Hong Kong and China. Still running a marathon a day, now over a third of the way through my 100 marathons in 100 days… Phew.

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

We spent a lot of time in rural India this past week, starting from the farmlands at the state border between Rajasthan and Gujarat. Cotton farming is a huge industry in this part of India and it’s fascinating to see up close. This farmer, for example, harvests and stores cotton in his house. Once the house is full, a cotton factory tractor comes to collect it from the houses. The farmers are paid $1 for 1kg of cotton. That 1kg of cotton needs 20 litres of water every day to grow. 1kg of cotton is equal to 1 t-shirt. Think of how many t-shirts you have in your cupboard?

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

One of the big problems with cotton, of course, is that it needs a huge amount of water, and that’s typically through flood irrigation in this area. Flood irrigation is an ancient irrigation method where water flows over the ground through the crop. It is effective, but not at all efficient: roughly half the water ends up irrigating the crop, the other half is lost - to evaporation, run-off and weeds. In a water-scarce country like India, this is a devastating loss.

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

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But we’ve glimpsed many reasons for hope, too. We kept seeing murals like this painted outside schools to educate on water and sanitation. We saw drip irrigation being used in the marigold fields - which is much more water-efficient. We’ve met so many remarkable people who are devoted to water… Check out our 100 Water Heroes for a daily dose of inspiration.

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

I was also guest of honour at an event to honour women in Surat - I met an incredible array of women from doctors to NGO founders to sports personalities, all being celebrated for their contributions. I was able to speak to this powerful group of women and share with them that we all have the capacity to make a difference: individual actions can make a huge impact to secure a future for the world where there is enough water.

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

This week has really brought home to me the amount of water that goes into clothing - into textiles - and of how much waste there is associated with it. This family has been working and living in this informal textile recycling and waste site for six years. They’re in charge of sorting the textile offcuts from the manufacturers, which are taken to either be burnt or made into bed sheets. It was such a striking visual marker of the size and invisible costs of the textile industry.

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

You can find out more about these stories - and the ones coming up from China, the Middle East, Africa and more - by following the journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Let’s share these stories together…

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman