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Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Myth Is Born


In a recent blog post in the Guardian, author Pamela Ravasio makes the assertion that the popularity of cotton for fashion is driving farmers to increase land devoted to cotton at the expense of food production (title: "Does fashion fuel food shortages").  This is based on the staggeringly absurd planting area "statistics" in this paragraph:

"Of a world crop production of 2748.2 million tonnes (2011), only 4% was cotton, the most popular of fibre crops. However the picture manifests itself very differently if land usage is the measure to go by: the plantations of the three largest cotton growers - the US, China and India - alone account for 50 million acres, 42% of all agricultural land. In contrast, food crops amount to some 40 million acres and fuel crops to 32 million acres." (underlining mine).


Seriously?  Did Dr. Ravasio and any sort of editor at the Guardian publish that without thinking, "hey, that can't be right?"  More cotton than food crops?  




According to the USDA (see graph above), cotton is planted on around 80 million acres globally.  That is a substantial area, but global arable land is nearly 14 million square kilometers, or 3.4 billion acres.  That would mean that cotton represents 2.35% of arable land.  By FAO's "agricultural land" definition, that much cotton represents only 0.7% of of the 12 billion total acres.


As transparently erroneous as this Guardian article was, it was quickly picked up by a variety of "green" sites. (Take Part, Triple Pundit, Specialty Cellulose).  A similar argument with less ridiculous statistics was made on Mother Earth News.  We can now probably expect to see "cotton vs food" in the lexicon of anti agriculture myths.  Thus a myth is born and it will be believed by a credulous audience.

Dr Ravasio describes herself as "an independent researcher, journalist and consultant specializing in sustainable fashion businesses processes. Experienced in cross-continental strategic project management, she is a consultant for the Ethical Fashion Consultancy. I have written to the consulting group suggesting that they might check the statistics and ask the Guardian to take down the article since its entire premise is based on bad data.  


You are welcome to comment here or to email me at savage.sd@gmail.com


Cotton image from Calsidyrose