Price of cotton paid in pollution

As you pull on your jeans, have you ever thought about the journey they have taken? Fran Abrams and Margaret Mackintosh trace the 40,000 mile story from cotton fields to high street

Cotton covers five per cent of the world's cultivable surface and is the world's most polluting crop: it also requires a lot of water. Problems facing growers include:

* The availability of water for irrigation and the impact of the industry on water quality and quantity.

* Inefficient irrigation can lead to residual problems such as salinity, the movement of soil and nutrients, water logging and effects from agricultural pesticides.

* Some 25 per cent of the world's pesticides are used on cotton, more than on any other crop. USA, India, former USSR, Pakistan and Egypt are the greatest users of pesticides.

* There is evidence that the misuse of chemicals is leading to increased resistance in pests, especially whitefly and bollworm caterpillars (boll weevil) which seriously affect cotton production. z During the 2000-2001 cotton season about 100 people in Benin died from poisoning due to effects from the pesticide endosulphan, one of a number of chemicals being dumped on West Africa's cotton-growers despite being banned in some wealthier countries. In Benin, cotton is often grown alongside farmers' food crops: if the food crops are sprayed with pesticides, the results can be tragic.

Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul, British Museum PressCotton Tales by D Myers, New Internationalist No. 302 June 1998Jeans: the big stitch up, by D Ransom, New Internationalist No. 323 May 2000New Internationalist: www.oneworld.orgniissue302 (or 323) MM

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