VEGETAL FIBRES IMPACT/ INTRO
Vegetal fibres have been used since time immemorial for tools and instruments, rope and packaging, clothing, bedding and housing. Environmental issues have led to renewed interest in the agro-industrial production of non-wood fibre crops for a large number of applications…
- vegetable fibres are composed chiefly of cellulose and may be classed as short fibres, e.g., cotton and kapok; or long fibres, including flax (used to produce linen), hemp, Manila hemp, istle, ramie, sisal hemp, and Spanish moss;
- the textile industry has historically been a large consumer of manmade, natural and human resources. Significant amounts of energy, chemicals, water and human labor are required to produce the majority of textile products (‘natural’ fibres included);
- for example, the most popular textile fibre in the world is cotton, which accounts for 33% of global textile production. Cotton will only grow in warm, humid climates or in warm climates with considerable irrigation – 73% of cotton is produced in irrigated fields and when calculated per kilogram of product, cotton is the world’s most water-intensive crop; (1)
- in Ethiopia, for example, 60% of the fertile Aswan river valley has been devoted to cotton production. Local people have been forced on to fragile uplands contributing to the deforestation that has been partly responsible for Ethiopia’s ecological crisis; (2)
- a newspaper feature article re-traced the production of a pair of branded cotton jeans on sale for £19.95 (about €29 or US$34.6) in a UK store . Journalists found that the materials used had made a journey of 40,000 miles (about 64,373 Km) clocking up CO2 emissions and allowing almost no accountability. The cotton was grown in West Africa and Pakistan, dyed in Italy and sewn in Tunisia. Brass metal for the buttons and rivets was made in Germany from zinc and copper from Australia and Namibia. The zip teeth and thread were from Japan; (3)
- another newspaper report from 2001 tells how Mr. Bapabiozo, a desperately poor farmer in Benin, sold his four sons, aged from eight to twelve years old, into slavery for just £10 each (about €14.5 or US$17.3). The boys were destined for cotton plantations in Ghana, but were saved by charity workers from UNICEF. According to UNICEF, every year 200,000 children from West Africa are sold to work 12-hour days on the cotton or cocoa plantations. This is enough to put anyone off cotton clothes and chocolate bars, which are not fair-traded.
(1) WWF International, “The impact of cotton on Freshwater resources and eco-systems”, Switzerland, 1999.
(2) The Ecologist, vol22, no4 Jul/Aug 1992.
(3) Abrams, F., Astill, J. (2001) “Story of the Blues”, The Guardian, London UK. 29 May 2001.
(4) Johnston, J. “Sold for £10, heartbreaking story behind Africa’s child slave trade”, The Mirror, London. April 21 2001.