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Why Is Fashion an Agricultural Choice and How Does It Threaten Environment

What do our clothes have to do with agriculture? As a matter of fact, a lot. Just like food, our clothes are ultimately an agricultural choice — a thought that rarely crosses our minds but affects us and the planet just the same. If you’re careful about what you eat, it’s high time you cared about what you wear as well.

Key Takeaways:  Small seeds, big impact

When it comes to our clothes, we’re quick to think that they’re created in factories or sewn on machines, little do we realise that they ultimately emerge from the soil just like the vegetables we consume on a daily basis. We’re quick to criticize fast food chains for their role in harming the environment by encouraging beef consumption but our fashion choices are equally guilty of the same amount of damage.

Almost every item of clothing you purchase or already own started out as a seed beneath soil and more often than not, these seeds have grown to have a dreadful impact on the environment. Just take conventional cotton into consideration; it is the most valuable and profitable non-food crop in the world, with as much as 27 million tons of the crop being produced on an annual basis. Conventional cotton has a wide reach across the globe but its production methods have a hazardous impact on the environment.

Cotton’s water usage is among the most devastating since it’s one of the thirstiest crops, using all of 2,700 litres just to produce one cotton t-shirt. As a result, major cotton-producing countries like China and India are already experiencing medium to high levels of water stress and scarcity. The Aral Sea in Central Asia has diminished to just 10% of its former volume, through drought and decades of diverting water to irrigate cotton farms. The crop is also chemically dependent using up to 4% of the world’s pesticides and 10% of insecticides to grow which has caused irreversible soil salinisation, erosion and degradation.

A recent report by the United Nations claims that almost one-third of the world’s farmable land has vanished in the past four decades. The same report also stated that all of the world’s topsoil could become unproductive within 60 years if current rates of loss continue. 

The positive farm to fashion movement

Preserving our freshwater resources and restoring soil are the most efficient ways to address climate and environmental issues over the long term. And fabric production could act as a catalyst for that change. Clothes that sequester carbon, enhance soil health and empower farmers from crop to closet have the potential to leave a positive impact on the planet. And here are some of the fibres that can do just that;

1. Organic cotton 

When compared to conventional cotton, organically grown cotton can reduce the crop’s dependency on freshwater resources by 91%. In fact, 95% of the water used to grow organic cotton comes from rainwater and water stored in the soil. Moreover, organic cotton is generally produced without the use of fertilisers and pesticides and can decrease the overall impact of global warming from cotton production by 46%.

2. Hemp

Appropriately regarded as a ‘miracle plant,’ hemp has been proven to remediate contaminated soils and restore soil fertility by removing toxins from the soil while replenishing it with nutrients. Hemp has been proven to be an ideal carbon sink as it can capture more CO2 per hectare than other commercial crops and even forests. One hectare of hemp can absorb 22 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare. 

3. Linen

Linen comes from the flax plant which is highly resilient and can even grow in poor soil conditions using a lot less water in its consumption than cotton and little to no fertilizer. According to the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp, flax cultivation has positive effects on ecosystem diversity as it allows for a welcome environmental pause for soil quality, biodiversity and landscapes. Additionally, one hectare of flax can retain 3.7 tonnes of CO2. 

Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2021-11-01

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