Potential and limitations of organic and fair trade cotton for improving livelihoods of smallholders: evidence from Central Asia

Bachmann, Felicitas (2012). Potential and limitations of organic and fair trade cotton for improving livelihoods of smallholders: evidence from Central Asia. Renewable agriculture and food systems, 27(2), pp. 138-147. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 10.1017/S1742170511000202

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Cotton is a leading agricultural non-food commodity associated with soil degradation, water pollution and pesticide poisoning due to high levels of agrochemical inputs. Organic farming is often promoted as a means of addressing the economic, environmental and health risks of conventional cotton production, and it is slowly gaining ground in the global cotton market. Organic and fair trade cotton are widely seen as opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods thanks to higher returns, lower input costs and fewer risks. Despite an increasing number of studies comparing the profitability of organic and non-organic farming systems in developing and industrialized countries, little has been published on organic farming in Central Asia. The aim of this article is to describe the economic performance and perceived social and environmental impacts of organic cotton in southern Kyrgyzstan, drawing on a comparative field study conducted by the author in 2009. In addition to economic and environmental aspects, the study investigated farmers’ motivations toward and assessment of conversion to organic farming. Cotton yields on organic farms were found to be 10% lower, while input costs per unit were 42% lower; as a result, organic farmers’ cotton revenues were 20% higher. Due to lower input costs as well as organic and fair trade price premiums, the average gross margin from organic cotton was 27% higher. In addition to direct economic benefits, organic farmers enjoy other benefits, such as easy access to credit on favorable terms, provision of uncontaminated cottonseed cooking oil and cottonseed cake as animal feed, and marketing support as well as extension and training services provided by newly established organic service providers. The majority of organic farmers perceive improved soil quality, improved health conditions, and positively assess their initial decision to convert to organic farming. The major disadvantage of organic farming is the high manual labor input required. In the study area, where manual farm work is mainly women's work and male labor migration is widespread, women are most affected by this negative aspect of organic farming. Altogether, the results suggest that, despite the inconvenience of a higher workload, the advantages of organic farming outweigh its disadvantages and that conversion to organic farming improves the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

UniBE Contributor:

Bachmann, Felicitas


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




Cambridge University Press




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:24

Last Modified:

22 Oct 2019 18:49

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:





https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/8739 (FactScience: 214367)

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