99% of the world’s cotton farmers across 70 countries are smallholders. They produce 75% of the 25 million metric tons globally. Cotton covers 3% of the world’s cultivated land, yet it accounts for 24% of the global insecticide use. It takes 9,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. Other sustainability issues are the impact on soil quality and biodiversity as well as profitability, working conditions, gender, health & safety and child labor

Impact Focus

Market transformation

Since 2010, IDH has been working with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to mainstream sustainable cotton based on agronomic, environmental and social criteria. The scale that delivers the impact is largely driven by the commitment of frontrunner brands and retailers and the procurement of Better Cotton (BC) to meet their sustainable sourcing goals. IDH is strategic partner to the BCI Growth & Innovation Fund, which is the engine behind this scale – channeling volume-based contributions of private partners, match-funded by public-sector donors and investors into farm-level projects, marrying the objectives of market transformation in key producing countries to key sourcing areas of the 70 BCI brand members. This enables a self-perpetuating mechanism, translating procurement into supply-building, as well as better impact on cotton producers: less inputs (water and pesticides) and increased profitability (higher yields, lower costs). From 2016 onward, IDH is looking to make a stronger case across the cotton sector on platforms in India (provincial level) and Mozambique (national level) to create a roadmap of interventions to address the vulnerability and resilience of smallholders in light of agro-climatic vagaries and access to water, poor yields and ineffective public extension mechanisms. The objective is to identify and prove the business case for service providers (inputs, finance, extension, technology, etc.) so that smallholders will be partners or “viable customers”, rather than beneficiaries.

KPI Progress 2016

  • Change in Business Practice - Private Sector Investment Ratio

    Target 2020 1
    Target 2017 1
    Results 2017 2
    2017 saw a 22% increase in BCI membership to a total of 1,197 members. Uptake of BC by companies reached a record level of 736,000 metric tons (60% increase compared to 2016). As uptake increases year on year, private-sector contribution to volume-based fees grows proportionally—securing higher private-sector investments. Through strong outreach, guiding BCI in its strategic direction and by creating a platform for learning through convening FIIC and BCI, IDH increased companies’ appetite to source BC Cotton. As uptake is increasing, IDH’s aim is to transform the cotton market, making BCI the norm.
  • Change in Sector Governance - Satisfaction about the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder processes

    Target 2020 (not set) 0
    Target 2017 (not set) 0
    Results 2017 7
    In Maharashtra and Mozambique, IDH is piloting models beyond the standard livelihood approach, including climate resilience and multi-cropping in the curriculum. We designed and convened national and state-level platforms, and run the secretariat in both Mozambique (under the climate resilience program) and Maharashtra to facilitate collaboration with governments to jointly develop approaches to address smallholder resilience and livelihoods. IDH continues to facilitate embedding BC in other country-level institutional practices like in China, where our engagement with XPCC, a public partner in Xingjian, aims to embed the Better Cotton principles into their own production principles (Xingjian accounts for 15% of China’s cotton production in 2017). In Pakistan, the Agriculture Extension Department (AED) has initiated a pilot for providing BC training under the guidance and supervision of WWF Pakistan. In addition, IDH engaged with the ministry of agriculture in Greece and the association of spinners and ginners for benchmarking BCI with country standard AGRO2 in a financially self-sustained way.
  • Field Level Sustainability - Number of producers/workers/ community members trained

    Target 2020 4
    Target 2017 2
    Results 2017 2
    Comparing Better Cotton and control farmers in 2017, we saw on average a 14% higher yield in Pakistan for Better Cotton farmers, 19% less water use in China, 22% higher use of organic fertilizer in Mali, 14% less pesticide use for large farms in Brazil, and a 32% higher profitability for Better Cotton farmers in India (source: BCI Harvest Report 2012). Within a short period of seven years, Better Cotton has contributed to ramping up the share of all sustainably produced cotton (including Organic, Fairtrade and Cotton Made in Africa) to nearly 20% of global production.

For IKEA, cooperation is essential to reach scale in sustainable cotton. The GI Fund of BCI and IDH is the vehicle to work pre-competitively with other brands, funders and governments to make sustainable cotton affordable.”

Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ikea Group

Relevant SDGs

  • 1 No Poverty
  • 8 Decent Work & Economic Growth
  • 12 Responsible Consumption
  • 15 Life on Land

Gender focus

In 2017, almost 2 million farmers received training in BC principles and were verified as having shown awareness and adherence to gender principles (“do-no-harm”): no pregnant or nursing women were allowed to apply pesticides; access to potable water on the field and equal wages for work of equal value (women are usually engaged in different activities than men – picking, weeding). From 2018 onward, we will use the Gender Toolkit in new programs. The baseline will result in pilots in 2019, so we can compare and contrast the impact on the community and sustainable production, and develop a business case to provide evidence-based feedback to standards, companies and governments to invest. It proves difficult to pin-point which factor influences gender empowerment in agriculture most (e.g.: land titles, access to training and technical support, management and financial skills, formal vs informal education for women). Given the differences of gender issues and involvement of women in production in different geographies, it is hard to formulate one overarching gender policy.

Lessons Learned

The time that it is taking from ideation, through framework development, approval and then implementation is longer than expected, making innovation pilots a multiyear exercise. Given the challenges in coordination, we need to find a way to streamline the process to shorten timelines before we test the innovation on the ground, and minimize overlap with business as usual.

Smallholder livelihoods
Discussions with cotton farmers take us beyond just a cotton commodity approach to a broader engagement, which looks at second crops, livestock, access to water as an economic enabler, etc. The key learning is that for future cotton program design, we need to build in a holistic approach to farmer livelihoods.

Focus countries

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