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Social, economic and environmental impacts of organic cotton production on the livelihood of smallholder farmers in Odisha, India

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2017

Christine Altenbuchner*
Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.
Stefan Vogel
Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.
Manuela Larcher
Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.
*Corresponding author:


Cotton is an important source of income for smallholder farmers in India, usually grown very intensively. To counteract negative impacts of cotton cultivation in India, such as environmental degradation and financial dependency due to high input costs, organic cotton cultivation is being promoted by non-governmental organizations in the country. This study examines how the conversion to organic cotton cultivation influences the livelihood of smallholder farmers in rural India. Interviews with organic farmers were conducted in Odisha, India, complemented by expert interviews and observations in the field. Results show that farmers profit from organic agriculture, mainly due to soil improvements, through reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and lower input costs, which in turn reduces dependency on money lenders. Organic agriculture enables smallholder farmers in the study region to improve their livelihood by providing access to training and by organizing in groups. Important social impacts identified in this study were capacity building and strengthened communities, through training and institution building. However, a higher workload, due to the higher work intensity of organic farming practices, was also observed, with this impacting women more than men. Environmental conditions and gender aspects still remain challenging.

Research Paper
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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