Cotton production in India provides livelihoods for more than 5 million farming households. Since 2007, India ranks second among cotton producing countries. The productivity per surface area is rather low compared to countries like Australia, China or the US, but new varieties (hybrids, genetically modified Bt cotton), synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation have led to yield improvements in the last few decades. However, this was achieved at the cost of environmental pollution and declining soil fertility. Furthermore, the resulting high input costs coupled with decreasing returns (mainly because of increased costs for labour) have led many Indian small holder cotton farmers into indebtedness.
Organic agriculture is seen as an alternative holding the potential to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods of Indian small holder cotton farmers in a sustainable way. However, long-term benefits and drawbacks of organic agriculture in India have not been assessed in a systematic manner up to now. Therefore, collaboration with the organic cotton trading and development organization bioRe in Madhya Pradesh was initiated and long-term system comparison trials were established in 2006. bioRe has produced organic cotton since 1991, and works with some 5000 small and medium size organic farmers.