Is Turkey becoming again the global shooting star among organic cotton producers?

Is Turkey becoming again the global shoooting star among organic cotton producers?

By Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura


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As we all might be aware, Turkey is a pioneer in organic cotton. It started to grow organic cotton already 30 years ago. Turkey produces one of the finest cotton in the world. However, also this nation has been touched by unfavourable economic conditions, and many cotton mills could not withstand the competitive global world, because of high energy and water costs

Turkish organic cotton fibre production however is on the rise again – after a considerable drop in 2009-10 and a peak in 2008-09. There are many companies certified GOTS, OE and OCS, and their number is rising. The growing success is also attractive to junior farmers and mill owners.

The development plan

The UNDP United Nations Development Programme jointly with the Turkey Ministry of Development South Eastern Anatolia Regional Development Administration in Turkey declare organic as a fundamental tool to eliminate poverty, and by sustainably developing parts of Turkey that are economically underdeveloped. 

So far, only 20 % of the irrigation projects have been realised in the South Eastern Anatolia Region. Once completed, the irrigated land will amount to 1.8 million hectares. Today, this region accounts for 50 % of Turkey’s conventionally produced cotton, the share of the organically produced cotton is 75 %. Since efforts to collaborate on all levels do increase to produce organic cotton, it is expected that Turkey may become again the major force in this global market segment, with the prerequisite that demand for such a kind of grown cotton is increasing.

The Turkish cotton growing regions

Turkish cotton is grown in the Aegean Region (around 20 to 30 %), Cukurova, South Anatolia, South East Anatolia, and Antalya. Since early 2000, the cotton growing shifted to the South Eastern Region.

Cotton from the Aegean region has a rare white colour and offers outstanding fibre strength, thus one of the highest quality cotton available globally with longest fibre length, excellent spinning qualities, and softness. It offers additionally excellent dyeing characteristics and colour retention. It is ideal for combed cotton. 

Cotton from the South Eastern Region is shorter than the Aegean cotton fibre, but still relatively long with good fibre strength. It is perfect for denim and other medium staple use. Both qualities prevail from conventional and organic cotton. The price difference between the two qualities is in a range of 8 – 10 %. However, the difference between conventional and organic cotton is around 20 % in favour of the organic cotton fibre, around 10 % go directly to the farmer for seed cotton (before ginning), up to five percent is added throughout the value chain for logistical and certification costs and maintaining the integrity of the organic product.

The total cost difference of producing an organic product is around 5 to 10 % in the final product, depending on the weight of the article, but only a few percent in items with low fabric consumption.

All of these details derive from a first time ever published and extensive Textile Exchange “Organic Cotton Sourcing Guide to Turkey”. It was established in honour of the guest country as location for the conference.

Additional advantages for Turkish cotton growing

Turkey offers good soil, without contamination of GMO cotton. In contrast, today’s largest organic cotton producer, India shows a decreasing organic cotton production, because GMO-free seed is no longer available there. In Turkey the farmers produce their own certified seed, allowing transparency along the value chain.

There is another particularity to be witnessed. Turkish cotton agents do have contracts with the farmers, and in turn become the guarantors of quality certified organic cotton.

The aimed for revival of organic cotton production in Turkey

The GAP Organic Agriculture Cluster Project has one important basis: The region disposes of extensive, fertile, irrigable agricultural land to become a leading supplier of organic textile and food raw materials in Turkey, and an innovative, competitive organic production centre by 2023.

The GAP plan of action 2014-18 states that 65 % of the irrigation investment should be completed by the end of 2018 increasing the total land under irrigation one million hectares. The region should have the potential to grow 400000 t of organic raw cotton and 160000 t of organic cotton fibres on a surface of 100000 hectares, all hand in hand with a major spread of organic farming practice across the region, thus becoming a significant supply centre for organic textile manufacturers.

It has to be specified, that GAP originally consisted of projects for irrigation and hydraulic energy production on the Euphrates and Tigris. It has developed not only into a multi-sector social but also into a basis for economic growth. It was additionally leading to an organic agricultural cluster for the region.

The development programme entails irrigation, hydraulic energy, agriculture, rural and urban infrastructure, forestry, education and health sectors. The water resources development component of the programme envisages the construction o 22 dams and 19 hydraulic power plants and the irrigation of 1.82 million hectares o land. The total cost of the project is estimated at USD 32 billion. The total installed capacity of power plants is 7476 MW and projected annual energy production is earmarked at 17 billion kWh. The entire project aims at establishing and developing the required technical, physical knowledge and infrastructures for all sectors involved.

The actual situation for Turkish Cotton

Again in the ongoing season, Turkey will have to import cotton, as it did already during the previous season. The planted area of cotton has been 2011-12 700000 hectares, but it dropped to 515000 hectares in 2012-13. The demand for cotton settles at 1.35 million t and therefore over 800000 t will have to be imported, despite the fact that the best growing region offers record yields, the second highest worldwide after Australia. It has to be clarified that there is also a pricing reason for imports, Brazil can deliver cotton free of tax o Turkey and at a price of USD 1.15, whereas Turkish grown cotton has a price tag of over USD 4.00. It is also clear that with the extension and revival of organic cotton in Turkey a premium has to take place, however the discussion on how this premium is going to be dispersed is the key question. It is evident that farmers have to be educated in organic farmers, they have to be certified and therefore they should be entitled to a premium that is attractive for them to engage themselves in organic production. It is further clear that the better cotton is mostly destined for export of finished products since the Turkish domestic market is not yet ripe for the consumers’ awareness. They consider cotton rather as feed (oil). Therefore, also the Turkish consumer has to be educated to be willing to pay a premium on products made of organic cotton.

Some consumer and commercial aspects

At the latest Textile Exchange Conference of Sustainability in Istanbul (November 10 – 13, 2013), it was revealed that consumers are declaring they are worldwide willing to pay a premium for sustainable cotton products in a survey, but in practise, organic cotton should be priced equally to conventional cotton. This is why C&A the privately owned clothier chain has adopted a policy to offer sustainable clothing at the same price level as conventional cotton. It is the company’s aim to offer exclusively sustainable clothing by 2020. Already today, 60 % of C&A offerings are made of organic cotton. The company is one of the largest customers of organic cotton. During the conference it became evident that consumer awareness of organic cotton should be increased, with the effect that this will encourage farmers in Turkey and other cotton growing nations to cater to organic cotton. In Turkey there is – thanks to the quality of soil – no difference in yield of conventional and organic cotton but the yarn quality from organic cotton is superior.

Also the fact that cotton is losing market share in the global fibre sector is attributed to economic, environment and social factors and the economic factor and development has been earmarked as the most decisive. Another aspect is the definition of what is sustainable. This factor will be of significance in order to keep the important market share of cotton in competition with other fibres. In addition it was stated at the conference that for instance hand picking of cotton is creating a difference of 30 % in the cotton growing process. If this is not honoured by a premium at farmers’ level, organic cotton growing, will not be encouraged at farmers’ level, not in Turkey, nor anywhere else.

Additional facts

Turkey’s tradition in organic farming is demonstrated also by the fact that for instance, Brazil is employing pesticides at a level of five kg per hectare, where in Turkey pesticide use is only 0.4 kg per hectare. Thus from the growers viewpoint a reasonable price difference is justifiable and has to in majority to the farmer. Turkey has also the advantage that cotton growing regions are close to the location of cotton mills, thus transport costs are less and the cotton is readily available to textile manufacturers. We have mentioned before also the advantage that Turkish farmers are producing exclusively on the basis of own grown seed and therefore there is no contamination. The climatic conditions in Turkey are additionally favourable to cotton growing. The rules of sustainable cotton production are established, whereas in other countries, such as Kyrgyzstan there is no law in this respect, thus the purity of organic cotton cannot be guaranteed for cotton deriving from that country.

It has to be added that the production of organic cotton in India is on marked decline, because GMO free seed is no longer available there. India is the supplier of 80 % of the worldwide organic cotton available. Bt cotton hybrids cover more than 90’ % of the cotton growing area. Already in 2011-12, organic cotton production in India decreased about 20 %.


In order to enhance sustainable cotton production in Turkey, and to make use of the various cited advantages speaking in favour of that country – also proximity to important consumer markets – it is compulsory that all of the partners along the value chain have to be collaborating in the ultimate objection to regain Turkey’s leadership position in organic cotton production. This objective seems to be well underway with the creation of a new body and the aim to gain of importance, also with authorities by lobbying, and in order to get their support, probably also with the allocation of further means to achieve the goals.

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