Kicking off “From Field to Fanshop” - A visit to cotton and football fields in India
An article by Vanessa Berghoff
On Sunday, January 22nd you could sense excitement at Mumbai International Airport. Representatives from eight German Football clubs, the textile company Brands Fashion, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Fairtrade Germany and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH were about to embark on a journey to learn about the implementation of the “From Field to Fanshop” project.
As the plane approached the city of Kandla, the desert gave way to the coastline with channels of waterways that irrigate the fields and colourful villages. The state of Gujarat is one of India’s leading agricultural states, known for its production of cotton, as well as vibrant and traditional textile industry.
The trip began with a visit to the project farmers in Kutch, who are producing the cotton for the sustainable fan merchandise of the football clubs. The delegation was greeted with a warm and traditional welcome by the community and team of the local project partner Rapar and Dhrangadhra Farmers Producers Company Ltd (RDFC).
One project stream supports farmers in converting from conventional to organic cotton production according to Indian and European standards. The farmers shared about the benefits of organic cotton production such as improved soil and human health through the substitution of harmful chemicals. The farmers are receiving trainings on how to produce organic inputs like fertilisers or pesticides with natural ingredients. However, organic cotton yields are often lower, and the farmers need to strictly follow the organic farming practices. It takes three years for the cotton to be certified as organic as the in-conversion period is necessary to ensure that all residual chemicals have degraded and are no longer prevailing in soil or plants. During this in-conversion phase, farmers cannot market the cotton as organic and therefore also not receive the higher market prices. To overcome these challenges, the project provides the farmers with purchasing guarantees for the in-conversion cotton as a financial incentive.
While all 450 registered project farmers are male, the visitors were also curious about the role of their wives. One of the women shared about their responsibility of picking the cotton while having numerous other household duties like cooking and cleaning. As the delegation exchanged with the farmers and walked through the fields with cotton balls bursting open, it was also a humbling experience. Seeing cotton in its natural state recalled the incredible journey that textiles take from the seed that is planted on the field in India and ends up as a finished product in the shelfs in Europe. It was a reminder about the hard work and livelihoods of the farmers and their families at the very beginning of the supply chain.
On the second day, the delegation was invited to visit a local ginning mill to learn about the processing of cotton. RDFC does offer to transport the cotton from the farmers homes to a GOTS-certified ginning mill a little further away, however, the mill visited is not part of the project due to time constraints. The first impression was the large amount of raw cotton, some still on loaded trucks, other already in heaps on covered ground. When entering the mill, the air was filled with flying particles of cotton and the noise of the ginning machines that separate the fibres from the seeds. Striking was the difficult environment for worker safety, with concerns about the operation of machines and possible health impacts due to the air pollution. In contrast, GOTS requires adherence to strict social and ecological criteria including occupational safety and health. For ginning organic cotton, a ginning mill must be cleaned thoroughly to ensure it is not mixed with conventional to meet the standards for organic certification. After ginning, the cotton is compressed into bales for further processing in the spinning mills. The visit showcased that ginning is an integral link between agriculture and the textile industry. It is essential for producing high-quality cotton fibres and to ensure efficient and sustainable textiles production.
On the third day, the focus shifted to the second project stream that promotes sports activities among children and youth in ten local cotton growing communities. The delegation was invited to visit a school in the city of Mandvi and meet with the children who are participating in the sports for development programme. With the project partner Youth Football Club (YFC) Rakalan and teachers, the school premises were visited. Although the living conditions of many children are challenging, their enthusiasm in the sports class was contagious. Several rounds of football were played with mixed teams of all genders, ages, and nationalities. You could sense the joy and self-confidence of the kids, and teachers highlighted improved school performance and inclusion of often disadvantaged girls.
To add another sportive highlight, the delegation moved to a nearby Cricket ground to participate in a youth and sports festival between four project schools. To show their appreciation to the children, the football clubs brough gifts like tricots and fan merchandise. And then the session started: Through games and exercises, life skills and values of team play and fairness are conveyed. You could hear lots of laughter all over the pitch: running, catching, fitness, dancing and of course playing football – all under perfect weather conditions with blue skies and sunshine.
Finally, this very special trip ended on Republic Day – allowing the visitors to experience the celebrations surrounding the day the Indian constitution came into effect in 1950. To wrap-up the end of the journey, the delegation was joined by high-ranking guests like the Textile Commissioner, the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of the Cotton Corporation of India and president of the All India Football Association back in Mumbai to reflect and share lessons-learnt about the visit. Overall, the participants gained an invaluable understanding of the challenges and opportunities in and on the field that will shape the efforts of the “From Field to Fanshop” project. The experiences will be passed on to kick-off further sustainability efforts in the football clubs.
The project "From the Field to the Fan Shop" was launched by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) together with the textile company Brands Fashion and is jointly implemented by the global programmes "Sustainability and Value Added in Agricultural Supply Chains" and "Sport for Development". We would like to thank our implementing partners RDFC and YFC for the tremendous support in organising the delegation visit.
Photos: © GIZ & © Werder Bremen