Agriculture and Environment: Cotton | WWF

Agriculture and Environment: Cotton

Better Management Practices: Rework Subsidies to Promote Conservation

Current U.S. price-support subsidies for cotton production account for as much as half of the income the 25,000 American cotton growers receive for their crop.

This program insures that American cotton growers receive $0.70 per pound for their cotton, when the world price is only $0.40. Such subsidies have a direct impact on cotton production throughout the world.

Far-reaching impacts of harmful subsidies

At the very least, they squeeze producers in countries that cannot subsidise production (or at least cannot subsidise it as much), forcing them to cut corners.

Thus, U.S. government subsidies are matched by environmental subsidies in many less developed countries where producers are forced to cut corners to reduce their costs in order to compete with subsidised cotton production.

Better use of subsidies

While subsidies may be inevitable, they should be used to achieve concrete conservation results. They could be used, for example, to retire the least productive lands or to require the adoption and use of improved practices, such as more efficient irrigation.

They could also be used to wean producers from the use of the most toxic chemicals and reduce chemical use over time by subsidising a switch to integrated pest management. In a carrot-and-stick approach, policies could be developed to address pollution, toxic chemical use, water use and effluent issues.

Measures like "Pollution taxes"

"Pollution taxes" could complement the subsidy approach described above while helping governments address the nonpoint-source pollution (the cumulative impact of cotton production in a region with many producers) caused by cotton and other forms of agricultural production.

These types of policies would tend to push cotton producers and those who work with them to identify, refine, and adopt better management practices.

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