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Cotton and Pesticides in India

Cotton and Pesticides in India

2010/11/9

Journeyman Pictures: 100% Cotton - India)

Pesticides are killing Indian farmers, not pests.

Cotton, so called "White Gold", is cultivated in southern India. Many farmers gave up their traditional agriculture including rice, corn and vegetables for cotton, and they are solely dependent on the harvest of cotton.

For those farmers, most important tool is a canister to spray pesticides. However, they don't work as pets have become adapted to the poison. They even use more than double amount of pesticides, hoping that it would have better result.

It is very dangerous for human to spray pesticides without masks or protective clothing. Pesticides also end up in corn fields, thus food chain gets also contaminated.

After hours of spraying pesticides, everyday he feels dazed. His tongue feels numb and his nausea is getting severe, so that he has already lost his appetite. As water is the most precious commodity there, he sparingly use cold water to wash his body at the end of the day. However, cold water cannot wash off the poison.·


In the ICU(Intensive Care Unit) of the hospital in Warangal, farmers are dying. As they don't have enough money for research, only very little is known about pesticides' long-term impact on health. A lot of farmers exposed to pesticides always suffer from health problems. Together with lack of transportation, however, only few people can receive doctor's diagnose and treatment.

No other place use so much pesticides as cotton fields. Dangerous pesticides including Monocrotophos, Emporet, and ETR, which are banned in Europe already many years, are still sold in India. Farmers have no idea what the red warning triangle showing a skull is printed on the pesticides container means. Chemical corporate groups such as Novartis, Dupont and Bayer shifted their production facilities to India which has more demand.

Bayer's pesticides prohibited in Europe are produced in Vapi, India. Although one third of the pesticides are highly dangerous, waste water flow into municipal sewage plant. Of course, it was not built to handle industrial fluid waste. Because of this low safety standards, this entire districts have been contaminated.


New pesticides which are claimed to be highly effected is constantly coming to Indian market. But pests quickly become resistant. So farmers always buy newer and more expensive pesticides on credit. Their debt keep increasing. A lot of Indian farmers getting involved in cotton business end up in this vicious cycle, and thousands of farmers drink pesticides to kill themselves.

Farmer in this region bring their precious cotton into Warangal's cotton market. However, a price floor does not exist here. Prices are negotiated every morning according to the general state of the world market. The value of raw cotton is continuously decreasing because of the increase of cotton growing area and international competition. After 6 months of hard field work, he earns only 20 Euro.

The row cotton is taken from the Warangal cotton market to Tirupur for further processing. A lot of pesticides are still on the fibre. The organophosphorus residues will remain in the fibre at least for two months, the residues of organic chlorine compound will remain forever.


For bleaching and dying process, more chemicals are needed. Here again, workers expose their skin directly to poisonous chemicals. And this area smells like a chlorine gas factory. Their average life expectancy is only 35 years. After those bleaching and dying processes, there is highly polluted waste water. This factory alone use 150,000 litres of fresh water every day.

Water processing plants were built with the help of German foreign aid. But the quantity of toxins in the waste water is too much to process. There are 3 grams of chlorine per litre. Nobody knows how to dispose those contaminated sewage sludge properly.

Ground water and river is constantly contaminated. Therefore, people buy their drinking water, which is delivered only twice per month, and it is rationed. After 12 hours of working at textile factories, women need to line up for water for their families.

"I use tap water only for washing my clothes. Although it's very expensive, I have to buy drinking water. One third of my wages is used just to buy water."


Women can earn daily only 2 Euro after 10 to 12 hours of inspection of textiles for export. They are also exposed to contaminated cotton fibre in the air. Without wearing protective mask, they also suffer from constant headaches, breathing difficulties, and feeling nauseous.

Companies like H&M try to filter our the most dangerous chemicals. Because of the huge variety of pesticides in use, however, it it difficult to control cotton products. That is, even if the goods have been tested, it doesn't mean that they are free from pesticides. And those poisonous chemicals remain in fibre for months. A lot of companies including Walmart, Eastman, C&A, Metro and H&M buy textiles from Tirupur.


Even in Europe, the effect of poisonous chemical residues in clothes have not been sufficiently researched. The use of each chemical substances will be banned only when it's danger to human is proved.·

H&M tests their textiles. However, their "dangerous residues list"s is missing Monocrotophos, the pesticide Indian farmer was spraying.


In India, organic cotton is also grown. Yet, only 4% of cotton used to produce clothing in the world is grown without pesticides.

The traces of pesticides are poisoning Indian farmers and environment. And at the end, they reach consumers' skin.

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