Cotton from India forges a bond
A varied group of travellers from Tilburg journeyed to India in early October. Their destination: the Kabini Organics Farmers’ Producer Company Ltd, a cooperative of some 1500 cotton farmers set up with the aid of Rabobank Foundation.
Since 2009 Rabobank Foundation has been working to help improve the situation of small-scale cotton farmers, including in the state of Karnataka in southwest India. Here farmers are given training and support, which has also led to the creation of a producer cooperative – Kabini – numbering more than 1500 cotton growers. Loans from Rabobank Foundation have furnished the cooperative with working capital to buy up the farmers’ organically grown cotton and subsequently to sell it on. In addition another 6000 farmers affiliated to Kabini meet the criteria set by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).
Rabobank Tilburg and environs adopted the Foundation’s Indian cotton project a while back. ‘For us it was the logical thing to do, given Tilburg’s textile heritage’, says Wim Bens, the local bank’s board chairman. ‘Our council of members was enthusiastic from the start and spontaneously came up with ideas. We subsequently went on to work them out with various partners here in Tilburg. More and more partners joined in: municipal authorities, businesses, the education, arts and culture sector. They all had their own involvement but all were equally enthused. With the result that the project in India can count on broad support in the Tilburg community and we’ll be able to afford it a high profile within our sphere of operations.’
During talks with the various parties involved it became increasingly clear: for an accurate assessment of the situation, a visit to the project was a must. To talk to the farmers. To assess what they needed, but also what they could come up with. A working party of nine undertook the journey to India, documenting not only the entire cotton chain but also paying a visit to Rabobank’s International desk in India.
The trip was a major success. There are now firm plans for support to the project, including the export of Indian cotton to Tilburg in order to open up a new sales market for the cooperative. In addition there are plans for a book about the project (as part of the ROOTS series). And a local hotelier plans to use the Kabini cotton in the soft furnishings of one or more hotel rooms. In the design and production he will be aided by students from the local training centre and the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries, while Tilburg’s Museum of Textiles has offered the students the use of its Textiles Lab. Last but not least the city’s Mundial Festival and the Tilburg Fashion Event will provide a platform for telling the Kabini farmers’ story.
Rabobank Foundation Adoption Projects
Local Rabobanks can commit to particular projects, so picking the recipient of their donation to the Rabobank Foundation. In addition the local bank adds know-how, contacts and other forms of help that come from within its own area of operations. ‘In the case of this Indian cotton project , the added value coming from Tilburg is indeed very special,’ says director Pierre van Hedel of Rabobank Foundation. ‘The bonds that have been forged across the area deserve to be hailed as unique. It’s not something we see often.’