Is Our Love for Organic Cotton Causing African Children to Die from Malaria?

malaria africa children

Photo: Dominic Nahr/Time via Ecouterre.

Are children in Africa dying from malaria so Western children can wear organic cotton? This is certainly what Alex Perry asserts in a recent article in Time (via Ecouterre) that explores the malaria crisis in Apac, Uganda. In the "most malarial town on earth," according to Time, residents are bitten tens of thousands of times a year, on average, "including 1,586 bites -- four a day -- that carry malaria." The draining of malarial swamps is banned, as is spraying houses with insecticide (DDT), due to objections by Uganda's organic-cotton farmers, according to Time.

As Ecouterre notes, the thesis is never fully explored, and we are left wondering if organic farmers are in fact contributing to the malaria crisis. And so we go to David Bennell, executive director of Organic Exchange, a non-profit dedicated to growing the global organic cotton market, to weigh in on the issue. Read on for the truth behind your organic cotton t-shirt:

"Chemical-free farming sounds like a great idea in the West, but the reality is that Baby Omara is dying so Baby George can wear organic." - Time

family organic cotton

Photo: Organic Exchange

As the Executive Director of Organic Exchange, David Bennell, presents an alternative view to Alex Perry reporting from Uganda. As an expert on the organic cotton market, we asked David for a comment and he acquiesced--and also asked that we publish his response in its entirety--below. Read on:

David Bennell, Organic Exchange (OE): Ugandan organic cotton farmers don't grow organic cotton in order to clothe babies in wealthy Western countries, as reported by Alex Perry in Time Magazine on June 10. They choose to farm organic cotton in order to feed and clothe their own babies. This is consistent within other developing countries where over 220,000 farmers grow organic cotton to support themselves and over 850,000 other people who depend on them.

The fact that Ugandan organic cotton farmers would coalesce, of their own accord, to attempt to find alternatives to the spraying of DDT in their own homes, was to protect their very livelihood. That's an extremely rational approach for anyone struggling to make a living in one of the world's most poverty and disease-stricken areas.

mosquito photo

Photo: Wikipedia
OE: Many African farmers and their supporters (as well as hundreds of thousands of farmers in other developing countries worldwide) believe in the economic development potential of organic cotton agriculture because it is an accepted and accessible model for introducing farmers to best practices in cotton farming (soil fertility, water management, pest management, etc.).

"[Organic Cotton] has the potential to help farming families move out of extreme poverty."

OE: Because organic cotton inputs can be accessible and affordable to farmers (compared to some conventional inputs), organic cotton has been introduced in to many developing countries as a viable means of economic development for those living in extreme poverty, with Uganda as an example.

Because organic is grounded in fundamentally strong farming practices (that have application beyond organic), it has the potential to help farming families move out of extreme poverty and help contribute to their food security (organic cotton farming traditionally includes growing rotation crops that contribute to soil fertility and pest management, and that produce food crops for local consumption).

"Organic cotton can provide an accessible option for helping Ugandan farming communities feed themselves."

organic cotton photo
Photo: Organic Exchange OE: Ugandan farmers are actively engaged in organic cotton because it provides these multiple benefits and can connect them to markets on the African continent and worldwide. In a country ravaged by malaria with its crippling impacts on economic development, organic cotton can provide an accessible option for helping Ugandan farming communities feed themselves and begin to move out of extreme poverty. Why? Because organic cotton farming helps develop skills, abilities, and products viable in today's marketplace, whether local (Ugandan), regional (Africa), and/or international.

children uganda trees photo

Photos: via TreeHugger
OE: We would look forward to involvement in a coordinated effort between the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, other funders active in the fight against malaria, and concerned entities within developing countries to better address and implement strategies for effective disease eradication, while ensuring farming communities can continue to produce organic cotton and food, where farmers and their communities choose to do so.

Thanks to David Bennell for sharing his insight on the issue, above. Read the article in Time: The Battle for Global Health; More at Ecouterre.

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More on Organic Exchange
Organic Exchange Responds to GMO/Organic Cotton Controversy
Global Organic Cotton Market Reaches $4.3 Billion, Driven By Consumer Demand
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Humans Stopping Malaria Faster Than Global Warming Is Spreading It

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