Suicide Farmers See Hope in Sustainable Farming


Here’s an article to stop you in your tracks.

Ecotextile News reports on the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, India -an area troubled by its farmer suicide problem – and the tribal area of Adilabad, Andhra Pradesh. For those of you not aware that watchdogs are necessary, you need only read on.

According to Coral Rose, founder of Eco-Innovations, companies like Designs LLC, (doing business as Jonäno), CSE, Inc. (d/b/a Mad Mod) and Pure Bamboo, LLC are guilty of deceptively labeling and advertising their products as made of bamboo fiber when in fact they’re made of rayon. Welcome to the Wild West of sustainable consumer goods.

The companies have been charged with making false and unsubstantiated “green” claims, stating that their finished products retain the natural antimicrobial properties of the original bamboo plant. Litigation continues against the fourth company The M Group, Inc., d/b/a Bamboosa, and its principals.

Susan Donaldson, senior buyer for eco retailer VivaTerra (full disclosure: VivaTerra is an EcoSalon sponsor), says the takeaway from this controversy is that our current system for labeling a product leaves a lot to be desired.

“Whether a material is called ‘bamboo’ or ‘rayon from bamboo’, neither one tells us much about the lifecycle of the product,” says Donaldson. “What kind of energy is used making this item and how much? What kind of dyes? What are the workers treated like? What happens when you dispose of it?”

Still, Donaldson is optimistic about the bamboo controversy.

“I believe there still is a great opportunity with bamboo, and just as we are seeing such progress in the organic cotton industry, I hope that manufacturers of rayon made from bamboo can also transition to more sustainable processing.”

VivaTerra sources their bamboo textiles from a fair trade company that maintains a closed-loop, carbon-neutral manufacturing process and factory – one of many bamboo companies making real efforts to improve both transparency and eco-credibility.

In researching the issue further, I read this story about Zameen Organic, a farmer-owned, organic cotton trading and marketing company. Zameen grows and promotes Fairtrade, organic and pesticide-free cotton and works with farming communities in rural India through GOTS certification. The funds amassed from the venture will be used to strengthen sales teams across the US, Europe and India with the aim of building up a presence at retail level and in particular in high-street stores.

Ecotextile New says, “Now numbering more than 4,000, the farmers, who invest their own capital into Zameen, hold the most shares in the company and play a big part in shaping the policies as well as benefiting from shareholder dividends.”

For every ton of raw cotton Zameen buys from farmers, they set aside an organization development expense of 1,100 rupees (approximately US$24) to invest in Zameen. Last season, Zameen harvested around 374 tons of organic cotton.

Though not a total solution for the region, Zameen Organic has helped substantially with a decrease in suicide farmers whose crops have yielded nothing and land sharks still bilk them for 60% interest. Many men, seeing no hope in sight, go out into the fields that are supposed to support them, drink the farming pesticide and die.

Though the bamboo textile industry in many cases needs improvement, I believe that the more sustainable options these farmers have at their disposal, the better.

Image from the collection of the International Rice Research Institute

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.