Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber in the world, with more than 250 million people across the world depending on cotton cultivation and processing for their livelihoods, including millions of smallholder farmers and their families. Owing to a large number of people employed in the cotton sector, it is one of the world’s most important fibers and cash crops.

However, the cotton sector faces several sustainability challenges. Around 99% of the world’s cotton farmers across 70 countries are smallholders, who produce 75% of the 25 million metric tons of the global cotton production annually. Cotton covers 3% of the world’s cultivated land, yet it accounts for 24% of the global insecticide use. It is also one of the most water intensive crop, with 9,000 liters of water being used to produce 1 kg of cotton.

Other sustainability issues include its impact on soil quality and biodiversity as well as profitability, working conditions, gender, health & safety and child labor. Additionally, cotton supply chains are fragmented, spanning over long geographic and market distances, with limited visibility from retailers into sustainability issues at different points within the supply chain.

The IDH Cotton program plays a key role in addressing these challenges. The program has a goal of improving livelihoods of 3.5 million smallholder and medium cotton farmers by 2020, and to minimize the harmful impact of crop protection practices, promote water stewardship, improve soil health, enhance biodiversity, preserve fiber quality, promote decent work and develop effective farm management systems across India, Pakistan, China, Turkey, Mozambique and Tajikistan.

Better Cotton Innovation Challenge


Market transformation in Cotton

As strategic partner to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) since 2009, IDH is achieving sustainable market transformation in the global cotton value chain by creating both supply and demand side momentum for Better Cotton.

On the demand side, IDH is convening frontrunner brands and retailers to commit towards sourcing more Better Cotton each year. In 2018, we reached a record level of Better Cotton uptake of over one million metric tonnes by 93 Retailer and Brand Member, representing 19% of the global cotton market share. On the supply side, to ensure increasing demand for Better Cotton is also met with increasing supply, IDH is leveraging significant private sector funding for Better Cotton production and managing a fund of €12.6 million for the Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund (BC GIF) annually and providing strategic investment advice for capacity building of Better Cotton farmers across the world’s top cotton producing countries including India, Pakistan and China. In this capacity, IDH is also driving efficiency and continuous improvement of Better Cotton farmer capacity building for achieving greater scale and impact.

In addition, IDH continues to support BCI through its contributions to the Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund and works closely with government donors, civil society organisations and other private sector partners to develop and innovative the BCI model further.

Beyond BCI, in Maharashtra (India) and Mozambique, IDH is developing the business case for investing in smallholder cotton farmer livelihoods holistically by convening multi-stakeholder platforms in close collaboration with state government and private sector supply chain partners on rural transformation and development of agri-business.


Relevant SDGs

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Gender equality
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Life on land
  • Partnerships for the goals

Facts and Figures

  • Private-sector (sustainability) investments in the program (in million euro)

    Target 2018 4
    Result 2018 15.5
    Cumulative target 2020 19.5
    Cumulative result 2016-2018 29.3
  • Volume of sustainably produced cotton (in million metric tons)

    Target 2018 4
    Result 2018 3.4
    Cumulative target 2020 6.6
    Cumulative result 2016-2018 11.5
  • Smallholders, workers and community members trained (in millions)

    Target 2018 2.2
    Results 2018 2.4
    Cumulative target 2020 3.5
    Cumulative result 2016-2018 5.8


Title Type Year
Terms of Reference: Materiality Assessment for Alternative inputs for Textile Materials Terms of Reference 2020
Cotton Yearbook 2019 Report 2020
COVID-19 – ¿Qué medidas in situ pueden adoptar las empresas agrícolas y forestales y los operadores de paisajes sostenibles? Report 2020
COVID19 – Quelles mesures les entreprises agricoles et forestières et les exploitants de paysages durables peuvent-ils prendre sur place ? Report 2020
Webinar for agricultural and forestry companies during the COVID-19 period Report 2020

For more information contact us

Our Public and Private Partners in cotton