At the 69th Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) in Lubbock, Executive Director Terry Townsend began his report by pointing out the good that cotton does for global and regional economies. The fiber is grown in more than 100 countries on about 33 million hectares and is one of the most significant agricultural crops in the world. More than 100 million families are directly engaged in cotton production, and about 250 million people benefit from both cotton production and related activities.
Dr. Townsend quickly moved on to describe the overblown and exaggerated attacks brought against cotton by its critics, and offered a three-pronged response:
1. Listening to valid concerns,
2. Improving where appropriate through best practices, and
3. Confronting egregious misinformation campaigns and calling to account those who create and sustain those negative campaigns.
Of course, this criticism came as no surprise to the International Forum for Cotton Promotion (IFCP). For years, we’ve been cataloging ads and communications that focus on exaggerated misinformation about cotton, delivered by those who say they want to do good things for humanity. We’ve listened to tirades about poisoning the earth, water depletion, and chemical usage, all bolstered by misleading and erroneous statistics.
We’ve observed inaccurate papers being published by a single source, and watched how this misinformation grows into factoids on the Internet, subsequently appearing in multiple presentations. Most frustrating of all, we’ve waited for the organic and related industries to mature and to develop a cohesive communication strategy, one that works for all cotton professionals.
That’s because we all own the problem. It’s “all in the family,” and the family’s last name is “Cotton.” Organic cotton, Fair Trade cotton, Bt cotton … We are all related.
A simple reality check should be enough to remind us that we are in a period of extremely high and volatile cotton prices. That is partially due to weather and crop failures and partially due to a marketplace that has become accustomed to unrealistically low cotton prices. Ultimately, however, it is due to the laws of supply and demand.
Organic cotton is not unaffected by the high prices, and is equally at risk of losing market share to chemical fibers. If a product line or a retailer decides to leave cotton and high cotton blends for synthetics and high synthetic blends, they won’t be shifting to other cottons. The industry is aware of that, and whispers at the Organic Exchange (now known as the Textile Exchange) conference in New York in October were that some organic growers would be selling their cotton as conventional, because the prices were just too much for the market to bear.
In the year 2000 in Cairns, Australia, the members of ICAC gave birth to the idea of an organization that would generically “promote the promotion” of cotton, and specifically help to stop the erosion of market share to chemical fibers–the real competition–through demand enhancement. Two years later in Cairo, the organization formally became the International Forum for Cotton Promotion and began its work.
The IFCP supports all cotton.
For several years now, the organic and related industries have been invited to participate in ICAC Plenary Meetings, and I am happy to report that they have begun to attend. I always ask if they want to try to hammer out a communication strategy that we could all agree with. The conversations to date have been informal so here is a more formal question: Would you be interested in attending a workshop in Argentina during the 2011 ICAC Plenary Meeting? If so, please contact IFCP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine what we all could gain if our differences were transformed into marketing opportunities that supported the entire cotton industry!