The increased demand for organic goods reflects public concern about the effect of non-organic pesticides and fertilisers in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the air we breathe.
With most major supermarket chains now stocking organic produce and Marks & Spencer’s move to stock an organic cotton clothing line there are now concerns around whether supply will be able to meet the demand.
More conventional cotton production methods extensively use toxic chemicals with the potential to harm human health and the environment.1 We profile the positive impacts of the world’s first commercial organic cotton producer.
As a member and advocate of the UNGC, Article 13 is committed to profiling innovative activities of fellow members to encourage peer learning and joined up thinking amongst UNGC participants.
SEKEM has been a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact since 3 February 2004.
The SEKEM initiative was founded in Egypt in 1977 to realise the vision of sustainable human development. It is made up of several specialised companies that produce and market its range of organic products including spices, tea, wholefoods and cotton.
Each company works for sustainable development through institutions in economics, organic agriculture, research and development, education and health care.
Much of their focus is on biodynamic farming, a method that undertakes to restore and maintain the soil as well as the biodiversity of nature. One such initiative is the creation of the Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA), an NGO providing biodynamic research and training to farmers across Egypt.
Through multilateral cooperation with other organisations, EBDA raises awareness of organic agricultural methods. Building on SEKEM's experience, expertise and success in the biodynamic cultivation of herbs, cereals and vegetables, EBDA was the first in the world to cultivate and harvest biodynamic cotton in 1991 both on an experimental and a commercial scale.
The association provides training in various aspects of organic farming from composting, to grape pruning to integrated pest management.
EBDA provides the training and expertise needed to enable farmers to have their land inspected and certified as organic in accordance with EU standards.
One direct result of this achievement was a landmark reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides in Egypt by over 90%, from over 35,000 tonnes per year to about 3,000 tonnes.
At the same time, the average yield of raw cotton was increased by almost 30%. EBDA has been instrumental in the successful conversion of more than 800 farms with over 8,000 acres to biodynamic agricultural farming.
They have been able to demonstrate that organic farming practices can be undertaken on a wide and commercial scale. By taking a collaborative approach they have been able to improve the impacts of farming on their local environment and at the same time open up lucrative export markets for local farmers and their families.
To enhance the effect and efficiency of its activities and endeavours, EBDA is now developing a knowledge database designed to facilitate communication and the exchange of information between all parties interested in organic agriculture including researchers, engineers, farmers and producers.
"Well dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom", University of Cambridge, November 2006.
SEKEM corporate website.