Covid-19 has up-ended lives and livelihoods across the globe - everyone seems to have been touched in some way. As always, we've been staying in close touch with all of the people who help us create our products - and in this blog post, we share the latest news from the people who grow and produce our raw materials: our cotton farming community in India.
Our workers, your cotton
For several years now, we’ve sourced our Little Yellow Bird cotton from a cooperative in the southwest Odisha State on the east coast of India. The co-operative is made up of over 4000 small-scale farmers, and exists to support farmers through increased efficiencies, raised incomes, and enhanced environmental and social sustainability.
As always, we are in frequent contact with all aspects of our supply chain, and are pleased to relay some good news, as well as some of concern. While 45 co-operative farmers remain locked down away from home, they are all sheltered and accounted for. No local cases of Covid-19 have been reported in this area and on 20 April, the region was declared a ‘Green Zone,’ allowing people restricted movement. The farmers who produce our cotton are, therefore, able to work the land again. Our farmers had already harvested their crops prior to lockdown but face challenges moving forward . As we use rainfed cotton and only grow one crop per year in line with the rainfall patterns, we are now in a race against the seasons to get next year’s harvest planted.
Covid-19 aside, climate change, unreliable rainfall patterns and crop failure mean that getting a crop planted and harvested is already a challenge. Insecurity and supply chain issues are making cotton farming less desirable to farmers who are concerned about not being able to sell what they grow. This, coupled with Covid-19 food shortages, may see farmers switching to planting subsistence crops instead of cotton. Additionally, after speaking with a representative of the cooperative who is also a board member for Fair Trade India, we understand the biggest issue facing farmers is their ability to access seeds to be able to sow crops before the rains arrive.
The broader situation for cotton farmers and migrant workers in India
While our farmers face challenges, the situation for many others is significantly worse. Since our previous post, India has extended its lockdown and existing social and economic inequalities continue to intensify. Across India, cotton farmers now face the unenviable choice between following government lockdown requirements, and securing an income to carry them into the future. Some farmers must decide between leaving mature crops to rot in the ground, and risking a hefty fine and up to two years in jail to harvest them. Even those who are fortunate enough to have already harvested their crops are, in many cases, unable to sell them as local markets have shut.
Further complicating the situation was the speed of the country’s lock-down, which prevented many migrant workers from returning to their families and farms. Millions of migrant workers are, therefore, enduring the pandemic isolated in distant urban areas, unable to secure adequate shelter or food. To date, Covid-19 has mainly affected those in urban centres across India. However, there is considerable concern that when lockdown measures are eased and migrant workers return to their homes, that the virus will spread more widely across India.
What Little Yellow Bird is doing
Covid-19 has again emphasised the need to care for one another, that we are in this together. It has also emphasised that those of us at the consumer-demand end must, as far as possible, care for vulnerable workers at all stages of the supply end.
Beyond upholding all of our existing orders, here at LYB we are continually looking for ways to support all those we work with, and the industry that we are a part of more generally. As migrant workers have been particularly impacted, we made the decision to fund meals through one of our local impact partners. To date, and with your support, we have funded over 7500 meals for migrant workers. What’s more, as the lockdown in India continues, we have decided to extend this support by providing 10 meals for every product purchased on our website from now through to the end of May.
What we can not see, we can not change, and so it is up to all of us to be informed about what is happening elsewhere in the world. By supporting us, you can be assured that we are doing everything possible to support those within our supply chain, as well as those within the wider industry. We will continue to keep you updated as the situation changes.
Until next time, kia kaha. Stay safe, stay connected and be kind - the only way through this is together.
Samantha is the CEO and Founder of Little Yellow Bird and is an advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion. .