Chapter 3: Brazil, the great discovery

By Santi Mallorquí, CEO of Organic Cotton Colours.

In this chapter and the next, I illustrate our first trip to Brazil and the birth of the OCCGuarantee project. In the last article, I recounted the difficulty and lack of transparency we experienced during our visit to South India at the end of 2012. After that, we were ready to visit any country that met the requirements to obtain colorful organic cotton. It was Ángel Sánchez who saw the potential of Brazil and we started preparing for our next trip.

Thanks to an acquaintance of his who had been operating in this country for years, we managed to contact one of the people who has greatly contributed to the development of colorful cotton in northeastern Brazil: Maysa Gadhel from Natural Fashion.

Maysa told us that she worked with other activists to take advantage of a visit by Lula da Silva to Pernambuco to post about colorgrown organic cotton on large billboards that he could read from his car. She succeeded in capturing the interest of the President, a native of the region, in the project.

Lula da Silva initiated an agrarian reform that gave local farmers the opportunity to own 1 hectare of land. This initiative united farmers from various states, creating a network of small family farmers from different rural regions grouped into cooperatives registered by the Ministry of Agriculture.

In January 2013, we began our first trip to Brazil. Although Ángel had planned the trip, he couldn’t accompany us for personal reasons, and my friend Albert Niell joined this exploration trip. It was an adventure we will never forget due to the new and curious situations we encountered.

There, we personally met Maysa, who offered her support. She explained how the government, farmers, cooperatives, and NGOs function in the country … In short, she put us in the orbit of the sector and did the impossible for us to launch our project in Brazil. She never asked for anything in return and fascinated us with her dedicated, non-conformist, and passionate spirit.

Santi Mallorquí with Maysa Gadhela

Both Ángel Sánchez, the company’s founder, and Maysa have become my professional guides in the organic textile sector. I will always be grateful for their help and wise advice. Organic Cotton Colours owes them a lot.

So, there we were, Albert and I, gathered at the University of Patos in the state of Paraíba with farmers working on colored organic cotton in the area. Although we had a translator and I had been practicing Portuguese, it was challenging to communicate our ideas clearly.

Still, and thanks to Maysa’s indispensable help, we successfully presented our project. That same year, we made agreements with 40 farmers on organic lands for the cultivation of cotton as a Monoculture and established purchase prices for the three fiber colors: raw, green, and brown.

Monoculture Field in Brazil

We supplied them with seeds through Embrapa, a government organization that studies and improves seeds for various crops. At OCC, we had no experience as “parceiros” of a plantation, so we had to rely on the know-how of the farmers.

As an act of goodwill and to generate interest among farmers, we acquired 6 tons of organic cotton after a well-known European brand had committed to buying it, but had last-minute canceled the order, leaving farmers in trouble. The money they received helped them pay off their debts to the bank and provided confidence in the project we offered.

In Brazil, many farmers and their families have few resources and rely each year on the results of cultivation. They are at the mercy of production and market trends. It is not easy to produce and also find a buyer…

The appearance of “La Lagarta”

Back in Spain, everything seemed to be on track. We received photos of the progress of the plantation, and it looked promising. We tried to assimilate and learn as quickly as possible because, working from a distance, with no one from Organic Cotton Colours on the ground, we had no control over anything.

After 4 months, I started receiving information that a plague was affecting the fields. “La Lagarta” had attacked our crops, and we had to react quickly. In organic crops, it is crucial to analyze the evolution of pests because if you don’t act in time, you can easily lose the entire harvest.

And so it happened; we lost everything. The farmers’ lack of experience in pests and the absence of assistance in the field played a trick on us.

By that time, the rainy season had already passed, so in 2013, we would have no cotton. This made me realize that we couldn’t limit ourselves to being mere spectators in the farming project. We needed to step onto the field, and understand the various possibilities that Brazil offered us to bring our project to a successful conclusion.

Monoculture in debate

Organic Cotton Colours covered the costs of land preparation and the seeds. So the farmers did not have to turn to banks to pay off debts. Still, they also did not get any income since they only grew cotton in the fields. We then studied that a biodynamic technique of combining the cultivation of more than one product would provide stability for the farmers and make more sense for the project.

Cultivating cotton alongside food offers the possibility of providing food support for families and livestock. It also allows selling surpluses in organic food markets, thereby giving farmers extra income. So, we had the formula!

The past experience discouraged farmers who had seen all their work over the past few months go to waste, and I was forced to sharpen my wits. At that moment, I was reading “The Blue Economy” by Gunter Pauli. We needed to visualize a project that would be highly attractive to farmers and would supply us with the optimal fiber to compete in various organic cotton markets…

In the next chapter, you can continue to learn about our experience in Brazil. I will talk about the farmers, the new stakeholders in OCC… It was truly exciting!