Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Better Cotton programme boost income and protects nature

© Shutterstock / CRS PHOTOPost Thumbnail

Independent research has found that the Better Cotton programme has helped Indian farmers to improve their environmental sustainability while increasing overall profits. 

  • An independent study reports that the Better Cotton programme has improved sustainability and profitability for Indian cotton farms. 
  • Around 350 million people depend on cotton for their livelihoods, but the industry is infamous for its negative social and environmental impacts. 
  • The demonstrable success of the Better Cotton programme could help drive investment in more sustainable cotton. 

The Better Cotton Initiative is a global non-profit group that works to promote better standards in cotton farming. It’s goal is to promote the adoption of more sustainable farming practices and fairer working conditions within the cotton industry globally. 

Improving the sustainability of cotton farming will be critical in addressing the challenges within the retail industry, from fashion to home goods. India, the US and China are the world’s largest cotton growers and around 27 million tonnes of cotton is grown every year.

The independent study from Wageningen University and Research ‘Towards More Sustainable Cotton Farming in India’ is based on an extensive study conducted between 2019 and 2022.

The research explored the impact of the programme on cotton farmers from the Indian regions of Nagpur, Maharashtra and Adilabad, Telangana, comparing the results for farmers that implemented Better Cotton guidance against those who did not. 

The study had two core objectives, with the first being to validate the impact of Better Cotton on the performance of participating cotton farmers in India. The second goal was to develop a method that can used to monitor the impact of similar programmes in the future. 

Better Cotton’s chief executive Alan McClay explains: “It’s important that farmers see improvements to their livelihoods, which will incentivise more farmers to adopt climate resilient agricultural practices. Studies like these show us that sustainability pays off, not just for reducing environmental impact, but also in overall profitability for farmers. We can take the learnings from this study and apply it in other cotton-growing regions.” 

What did the study find? 

The study concluded that Better Cotton farmers were able to reduce costs, increase profitability and manage their environmental impact more effectively in comparison to farmers that were not involved in the programme.

Better Cotton farmers also demonstrated increased awareness and adoption of good agricultural practices (GAP), decent working conditions and general record-keeping.  

Participation in the Better Cotton programme helped farmers to decrease their use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, leading to average seasonal cost savings of $44 per farmer.  This can be an enormous amount of money for smallholders.

Although these savings were slightly offset by the average $18 increase in expenses for bio-based alternatives, the farmers were still able to reduce their overall input costs while limiting the effect of synthetic chemicals on both the surrounding environment and the health of farm workers. 

Better Cotton farmers also received higher prices for the cotton they produced, with the Nagpur participants selling their produce for 13% more than the control group. This statistical finding was backed by qualitative insights from the farmers themselves, who said that high demand for sustainable cotton had allowed them to raise their prices. 

The interviewed farmers believed that participating in the Better Cotton programme also helped them to increase demand for cotton, improve working conditions, and improve cotton yields. The study supports the first two of these conclusions but found that cotton yields had decreased across all farms during its research period. 

Overall, the report concludes that the Better Cotton programme helped to increase the seasonal profitability of cotton farming by around $82 per acre.

This equates to a $500 increase in the average income of cotton farmers in Nagpur, demonstrating the programme’s value in improving local livelihoods. 

The need for better cotton 

Cotton production has been associated with a range of negative social and environmental impacts, including exploitative labour conditions and its vast consumption of nitrous oxide-releasing synthetic fertilisers. 

Indeed, global cotton production is estimated to account for around 220 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, with each metric ton of non-organic cotton fibre producing up to 1.8 metric tons of CO2.

Cotton farms typically consume huge amounts of water, with the production of just one cotton t-shirt requiring over 700 gallons – enough drinking water for an average person to survive for two years. To accommodate global demand, cotton farms are often established as monocultural plantations that reduce biodiversity and contribute to soil erosion. 

Furthermore, the 350 million people whose livelihoods rely on cotton, including around six million workers on small-to-medium sized farms in India, are increasingly at risk of having their income affected by climate change.

Research suggests that 75% of cotton-growing regions will be more exposed to heat stress by 2040, with 40% of them expected to see a significant decrease in the growing season. 

This increase in climate risk comes on top of volatile market prices, competition with highly subsidised cotton producers in wealthier countries, and the fragmentation of rural farming sectors that are often dominated by costly intermediary service providers. 

Voluntary standards could drive investment in more sustainable cotton 

The new report suggests that voluntary sustainability standards, such as the Better Cotton programme, could help make the cotton industry more resilient, sustainable and fair for farmers.  

Its findings echo a previous report by sustainability software provider Thinkstep and the American Institutes for Research, published in 2018. Their lifecycle assessment of cotton farms in Madhya Pradesh revealed that those certified under voluntary sustainability standards achieved an average 59% reduction in fresh water consumption and an 84% reduction in ecotoxicity. 

As banks and investors seek to align their decisions with climate and biodiversity goals, they must also make sure that their investments are fair and inclusive for workers, communities and consumers. Otherwise, their choices risk being exposed to negative social impacts such as reduced incomes or human rights abuses. 

With the increasing recognition of how social problems interconnect with environmental issues, the demand for ESG investment opportunities that go beyond the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions is on the rise.

This growing emphasis on the social aspect of ESG acknowledges both the long-term value of supporting the communities involved in corporate supply chains and the reputational risks to investments that fail to do so. 

The ability to factor social concerns into investment decisions has often been limited by difficulties in measurement, but clear frameworks can be useful in providing guidance.

The Better Cotton programme, although voluntary, provides both farmers and downstream businesses with a clear recognition of their social and environmental efforts. Reports of its framework’s successful delivery could, therefore, help drive investment in more sustainable cotton.

More from SG Voice

Latest Posts