Today Better Cotton is grown in 24 countries around the world and accounts for 20% of global cotton production. In the 2020-21 cotton season, 2.2 million licensed farmers grew 4.7 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton.
Today Better Cotton has more than 2,400 members, reflecting the breadth and diversity of the industry. Members of a global community that understands the mutual benefits of sustainable cotton farming. The moment you join, you become part of this too.
Despite a challenging economic environment, Better Cotton saw a significant increase in support in 2022 as it welcomed 410 new members, a record for Better Cotton. Today, Better Cotton is proud to count more than 2,500 members representing the entire cotton sector as part of our community.
74 of the 410 new members are Retailer and Brand Members, who play a vital role in creating demand for more sustainable cotton. The new Retailer and Brand Members come from 22 countries – such as Poland, Greece, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and more – highlighting the organisation’s global reach and the demand for change across the cotton sector. In 2022, the Better Cotton sourced by 307 Retailer and Brand Members represented 10.5% of world cotton, demonstrating the relevance of the Better Cotton approach to systemic change.
Members fall within five key categories: civil society, producer organisations, suppliers and manufacturers, retailers and brands and associate members. No matter the category, members are aligned on the benefits of sustainable farming and are committed to the Better Cotton vision of a world where more sustainable cotton is the norm and farming communities thrive.
Below, read what a few of these new members think about joining Better Cotton:
We are pleased to announce that registration for the 2023 Better Cotton Conference is now open!
The conference will be hosted in a hybrid format with both virtual and in-person options for you to choose from. Join us as we bring the global cotton community together once again.
Date: 21-22 June 2023 Location: Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, Netherlands or join us online
Register now and take advantage of our exclusive early-bird ticket prices.
Attendees will have the opportunity to connect with industry leaders and experts to explore the most salient issues in sustainable cotton production such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, traceability, livelihoods and regenerative agriculture.
In addition, we’re delighted to host a Welcome Reception in the evening of Tuesday 20 June and a Conference Networking Dinner on Wednesday 21 June.
Don’t wait – early bird registration ends on Wednesday 15 March. Register now and be a part of the 2023 Better Cotton Conference. We look forward to seeing you there!
At the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in India this week, the organisation reaffirmed its commitment to supporting Better Cotton as it develops a carbon insetting framework to promote and incentivise sustainable agricultural practices.
Better Cotton first outlined its ambitions to establish an insetting mechanism at last year’s CGI meeting in New York.
At its most recent outing, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Better Cotton’s Chief Operating Officer, Lena Staafgard discussed the wealth of opportunities across India whilst acknowledging that farmers must be rewarded for delivering on Better Cotton’s climate mitigation targets.
Already, Better Cotton’s network in India has greatly benefitted from adopting more sustainable practices. In the 2020-21 growing season, for example, Better Cotton farmers reported on average 9% higher yields, 18% higher profits, and 21% lower emissions than their conventional cotton growing counterparts.
Still, underpinned by its comprehensive supply chain traceability system that’s scheduled to launch at the end of this year, Better Cotton believes insetting mechanisms can accelerate environmental and social progress, supporting smallholder livelihoods across its network.
In theory, the insetting mechanism would incentivise farmers to produce more sustainable cotton by facilitating the trade of insetting credits and offering rewards based on each operation’s credentials and continued progress.
Until now, it has been impossible to build a carbon insetting mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the cotton supply chain at scale due to a lack of traceability.
Farmer centricity is a key pillar of Better Cotton’s work, and this solution ties into the 2030 Strategy, which lays the foundation for a strong response to climate threats within the cotton value chain, and mobilises action for change with farmers, field partners and members.
Right now, Better Cotton is piloting its traceability system in the Gujarat and Maharashtra states.
With enhanced supply chain visibility, brands will learn more about where the cotton they source comes from and therefore be better positioned to reward sustainable practices via farmer repayments that incentivise further on-field improvements.
The CGI meeting in India – led by Secretary Hillary Clinton – was a huge success for Better Cotton as it conveyed its aspirations for further progress within the cotton sector.
Better Cotton has published a management response to a recently-published independent study carried out by Wageningen University and Research (WUR). The study, ‘Towards more sustainable cotton farming in India’, explores how cotton farmers who implemented Better Cotton recommended agricultural practices achieved improvements in profitability, reduced synthetic input use, and overall sustainability in farming.
The three year-long evaluation aimed to validate the impact of Better Cotton on agrochemical use and profitability among cotton farmers participating in Better Cotton’s programmes in Maharashtra and Telangana, India. It found that Better Cotton Farmers were able to reduce costs, improve overall profitability, and safeguard the environment more effectively, compared with non-Better Cotton Farmers.
The management response to the study provides acknowledgement and analysis of its findings. It includes the next steps that Better Cotton will take to ensure that the findings of the evaluation are used to strengthen our organisational approach and contribute to continuous learning.
The study was commissioned by IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, and Better Cotton.
Better Cotton Management Response: Validating The Impact of Better Cotton on Cotton Farmers in India
We are pleased to confirm the launch of a Better Cotton Programme in Uzbekistan. As the sixth largest cotton producer globally, this programme brings us one step closer to our vision of a world where sustainable cotton is the norm.
Uzbekistan’s cotton sector has come a long way in recent times. After years of well-documented issues of systemic forced labour, the Uzbek government, International Labour Organization (ILO), Cotton Campaign, civil society institutions and human rights activists have been successful in driving state-led labour reforms in the Uzbek cotton industry. As a result, Uzbekistan has successfully eliminated systemic child labour and forced labour in its cotton sector, according to recent ILO findings.
Driving more progress across the Uzbek cotton sector
Building on this success, Better Cotton believes that commercial incentives can help ensure that the newly privatised cotton sector continues to reform and meet international standards. The Better Cotton Programme in Uzbekistan has the potential to provide that incentive by linking cotton farmers to international markets and supporting them to continuously improve their practices.
Through implementation of the Better Cotton Standard System, we will provide robust and credible decent work monitoring systems that can demonstrate impact and results made on the ground. We will also introduce physical traceability, under which cotton from licensed farms will be fully segregated and traced through the supply chain. Any licensed Better Cotton from Uzbekistan will, at the present time, not be sold via the mass balance chain of custody.
The Participating Farms
The International Finance Corporation and GIZ began piloting implementation of the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria in Uzbekistan in 2017. The pilots provided a strong entry point for our programme, with 12 large farms already benefiting from significant training, six of which have maintained participation. These are the same six farms now participating in the programme during the 2022-23 cotton season. All the farms were assessed against the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria by trained and approved third-party verifiers.
Farms with manual picking received additional decent work monitoring visits that focused on extensive worker and community interviews, along with management interviews and documentation reviews. This additional decent work monitoring looked specifically at labour risks due to the country’s past challenges. In total, nearly 600 workers, management and community leaders, local authorities, and other stakeholders (including civil society actors) were interviewed as part of our decent work monitoring. The findings of these third-party verification visits and the decent work monitoring were documented and discussed with technical labour experts and contributed to our enhanced assurance activities, which confirmed that no systemic forced labour was present on any of the farms. Like in all other Better Cotton countries, not all participating farms received a license this season. We will continue to support both the farms that received licenses as well as those who were denied licenses through our capacity building efforts so that they can continuously improve their practices, and are equipped to meet the core requirements of the Standard moving forward.
As we begin our work in Uzbekistan, we are concentrating on several key areas where progress still needs to be made. These include ensuring the effective implementation of labour unions and the appropriate use of worker contracts. We are energised by the progress that has been but do not expect our journey ahead to be without challenges. We will succeed together thanks to a solid foundation, strong partnerships, and commitment from all involved stakeholders.
We look forward to supporting the continuous improvement of Uzbek cotton production.
Lisa Ventura joined Better Cotton in March 2022 as our first Public Affairs Manager. She had previously worked for more than eight years at the World Economic Forum, focusing on public-private partnerships and engaging stakeholders to drive social change. With a keen interest in business and human rights, she collaborated with business, public sector and civil society leaders to build a more resilient, inclusive global economy.
We caught up with Lisa to seek her thoughts on how Better Cotton will engage in the sustainability legislative landscape and beyond.
Why is Better Cotton becoming more active in advocacy and policy making?
To fulfil our mission and help transform cotton production, while also supporting more sustainable sourcing and trade, we need a supportive public policy environment. Better Cotton aims to advocate for policies that support millions of farmers and farm workers worldwide to grow cotton more sustainably and improve their livelihoods.
Concretely, what does this mean?
We will engage in public policy advocacy in a variety of ways. First, by engaging with think tanks, other sustainability standards, civil society, governments, international organisations, brands and retailers to ensure the farmers and farm workers’ interests are at the heart of policy-making.
Secondly, we are keeping our Better Cotton Principles & Criteria (P&C) up to date. For example, following a public consultation in the past few months, we are currently reviewing the P&C to ensure it not only complies with new legislation, but also sets an ambitious framework for sustainable farming.
Finally, we will partner more with our country offices and other local stakeholders to address barriers to restoring the environment and upholding good labour standards.
Could you name one upcoming piece of legislation that you are closely monitoring and why?
There are quite a few, but one that is top of my mind is the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. We commend that this directive covers both adverse environmental and human rights impacts across organisations – and their supply chains. It is an important step forward.
However, we want to ensure that farmers and farm workers’ livelihoods are taken into consideration in such policies, so far they are at risk of being excluded of global markets. Furthermore the EU should cooperate with all developing countries, especially producing ones to develop policies that will address the root causes of climate change and truly support smallholders and other vulnerable groups.
This directive will also help create growing momentum for enabling transparent supply chains. Better Cotton is currently developing a physical traceability solution that we believe can truly transform the cotton sector and support millions of farmers.
Any reflections from COP27?
One of COP27’s four priorities was collaboration. With growing inequality, it’s vital to re-affirm a commitment to the global climate agenda, while ensuring the participation of all relevant stakeholders. I did notice a lack of representation from the groups and countries most affected by climate change, such as indigenous peoples to smallholder farmers.
More action is needed to support vulnerable communities, where people are increasingly on the frontline of climate change. In addition, smallholder farmers currently receive just 1% of agricultural funds, yet represent a third of production. We need new ways to help farmers and producers gain access to finance in order for them to adapt to climate change, diversify their businesses and adopt sustainable practices. Sharing success stories at COP27 is central to replicating and scaling these approaches. For example, ABRAPA, the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers and a Better Cotton’s Strategic Partner, explained how farm owners were remunerated for preserving an area greater than that required by Brazilian law. This has a direct impact on farmers’ livelihoods.
The pre-summit hype is all around a ‘Paris moment’ for the planet’s dangerously overstretched ecosystems. Environmental groups are desperately hoping for a set of ambitious, globally agreed targets that will not only protect what biodiversity remains, but also restore precious ecosystems that have been lost.
It is a prescient, planet-saving goal. And it’s one that global agriculture needs to embrace as firmly as any. A staggering 69 per cent of wildlife has been lost over the last fifty years, with “changes to land use” (a euphemism for the extension of industrial agriculture) identified as the chief culprit of this dramatic decline.
As government negotiators gather yet again, therefore, it is imperative that land – and agriculture’s role in managing it – is foremost in their minds. How we use it, what we use it for, and how can we best conserve it?
Just one teaspoon of healthy soil can contain more microorganisms than the total number of people alive today. These crucially important microbes are responsible for transforming plant residues and other organisms into nutrients – nutrients that then feed the crops that provide 95 per cent of the world’s food.
The headline images of today’s biodiversity collapse are all too evident: decimated forests, dried out rivers, expanding deserts, flash floods, and so on. What is happening underground is as bad if not worse. Decades of mismanagement and pollution have given rise to a massive degradation in the soil biome, which, if not stalled and ideally reversed, will persist in bringing land fertility close to zero and crops and other plant life to wholesale collapse.
Declining soil health
Healthy soils are, in fact, widely credited with helping sequester carbon. And it is not only environmentalists and climate groups who are worried about soil health. Agricultural businesses are concerned too. According to the United Nations, two-fifths of the world’s soils are now degraded, while a significant minority (12-14 per cent) of agricultural and grazing land is already experiencing “persistent, long-term decline”.
Agribusiness does not have to wait for the inevitable hit to its bottom-line. Farmers in Pakistan, for example, tragically saw 45 per cent of all their cropland disappear under water after terrible floods in August. Droughts in California, meanwhile, have seen available farmland shrink by nearly 10 per cent this year, with lost profits calculated at US$1.7 billion. As for continental Europe and the UK, lack of rain is causing average annual farming losses of around US$9.24 billion.
Sustainable agronomy and agricultural technology are also advancing at pace. Take the rapid development of biofertilizers in place of nitrogen-based mineral fertilizers, which increase soil acidity and harm microbial life when overused. The market for fertilizers made from fungi, for instance, is projected to grow in double digits in coming years, with valuations exceeding US$1 billion by 2027.
Important as scientific breakthroughs promise to be, many steps for effectively managing soil health are already well-known. Reducing tilling (no-till or low-till), use of cover crops, complex crop rotation, and rotating livestock with crops are just some of the practices proven to prevent erosion and improve soil biology.
Similar moves are afoot elsewhere. The US-based Soil Health Institute, for example, recently established a Regenerative Cotton Fund with the objective of incentivising farmers to implement progressive soil management techniques on over one million hectares of US cotton cropland.
At a farm level, approaches to soil management will inevitably differ. Soil type, climatic conditions, farm size, crop type, and a host of other variables will influence precisely what strategy farmers develop. Common to all, however, will be the integration of other sustainable practices, from steps to mitigate carbon emissions through to measures to protect water resources. Each feeds into the other.
Yield effects aside, there are also market trends to consider. Faced with growing consumer pressure, big brands are expressing ever greater interest in the social and environmental footprint of the raw material they buy. Brands such as Patagonia, the North Face, Allbirds, Timberland, Mara Hoffman, and Gucci are some of those in the US$1.3-trillion fashion industry now actively seeking out ‘regenerative’ fabrics.
With charges of ‘greenwashing’ so rife these days, it is essential to have robust mechanisms in place to back up soil-health claims. While many certification initiatives now exist, such as regenagri and Regenerative Organic Certified, there’s no authoritative ‘stamp’ as yet. For our part, we are in the process of developing formal guidance for Better Cotton farmers. Clarity here will not only help producers give buyers the assurances that they seek, but it will assist in providing alignment with other emerging standards in this space.
Strong as the logic is in favour of promoting soil health in global agriculture, old habits die hard. If industrial farming is to wean itself off environmentally damaging, short-term farming practices, a strong steer from government is needed. In fact, the inability of governments to act decisively is concerning. Most obviously, polluters need to be made to pay. More generally the markets need a level playing field to enable environmental initiatives to succeed. Equitable financial incentives, too, such as a recently announced US$135-million grant by the US and other international donors to expand fertilizer and soil health programmes in sub-Saharan Africa, are much needed.
As environmental delegates jet in for their next summit, be it in Montreal this week or elsewhere in the near future, a word of advice: look down – part of the solution is almost certainly right there under your feet.
Stakeholder coalition to explore avenues for creating sustainable farming systems in Southern Chad
Better Cotton recently signed a multi-stakeholder Letter of Intent to participate in the landscape approach, developed with local stakeholders in Chad in conjunction with IDH. Through the partnership, the stakeholders intend to work towards improving the climate resilience of smallholder farmers in Southern Chad.
Sharing a common vision for sustainable, equitable, and socio-economic development of Chad’s Southern regions, the stakeholders will work together to design and implement a regional development plan following IDH’s Production – Protection – Inclusion (PPI) landscape approach.
This approach aims to create positive impacts for farmers and the environment through promoting and supporting sustainable production systems, inclusive land use planning and management, and the protection and regeneration of natural resources.
Cotontchad, with the support of IDH, is currently engaged in the Better Cotton New Country Start Up Process, in anticipation of starting a Better Cotton Programme in Chad, and embedding the Better Cotton Standard System (BCSS) in farming activities with thousands of small holder cotton farmers in Southern Chad
Better Cotton is actively reaching out to countries in Africa to explore collaboration opportunities and the potential to launch new country programmes. Implementing the BCSS ensures a commitment to sustainable farming practices that protect the environment, whilst also ensuring improved livelihoods for smallholder farmers. Furthermore, the BCSS aims to enhance positive impact on yields, soil health, use of pesticides and improved livelihoods of the farmers and also enables increased trade and improved access to international markets seeking sustainable cotton.
We are pleased to announce that our Senior Director, Data and Traceability, Alia Malik, has joined the International Cotton Association (ICA) as a new board member. The ICA is an international cotton trade association and arbitral body and was set up 180 years ago in 1841 in Liverpool, UK.
The mission of ICA is to protect the legitimate interests of all those who trade cotton, whether buyer or seller. It has more than 550 members from around the world and it represents all sectors of the supply chain. According to the ICA, the majority of the world’s cotton is traded internationally under ICA Bylaws & Rules.
Comprising 24 board members, the new board “continues to represent the ICA’s global membership across all sectors of the supply chain and builds on its commitment to engage the entire global cotton community.”
As COP27 draws to a close in Egypt, Better Cotton has been closely monitoring policy developments related to climate adaptation and mitigation, hoping countries will reach the goals developed under the Paris Agreement. And with a new report from UN Climate Change demonstrating that the international community’s efforts remain insufficient to limit average global temperature rises to 1.5°C by the end of the century, there’s no time to lose.
Lisa Ventura, Better Cotton Public Affairs Manager, talks to Nathanaël Dominici, Better Cotton’s Climate Change Manager about a way forward for climate action.
Do you think the level of commitments set out at COP27 is serious enough to achieve net zero by 2050?
Emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 (compared to 2010) to meet the Paris Agreement targets. However, the current sum of national contributions to reduce GHG emissions could lead to a 2.5°C increase, or even more in numerous regions, especially Africa, with major consequences for billions of people and the planet. And only 29 of 194 countries have produced more rigorous national plans since COP 26. So, more effort is needed to mitigate climate change, with significant action in developed countries.
Similarly, more action is needed on adaptation, with vulnerable countries and communities increasingly on the frontline of climate change. More funding will be needed to help reach the US$40 billion funding target by 2025. And there must be consideration given to how historic emitters (developed countries) can help to provide financial compensation and support where their actions have caused significant or irreparable damage around the world.
Which stakeholders should be at COP27 to ensure real progress takes place?
To meet the needs of the most affected groups and countries (for example women, children and indigenous people), it’s vital to enable sufficient representation of these people at the talks. At the last COP, only 39% of those leading the delegations were women, when studies consistently show that women are more vulnerable than men to the effects of climate change.
The decision not to allow protesters and activists is controversial, particularly given recent high profile climate activism in Europe and elsewhere. While on the other hand, lobbyists from damaging industries such as fossil fuels are increasingly present.
What should be prioritised by decision makers to ensure sustainable farming is used as a tool to address the climate crisis?
The first priority is to agree on a GHG accounting and reporting framework for agricultural value chains actors in order to track and ensure progress. This is something that is taking shape thanks to the guidance developed by SBTi (Science Based Targets Initiative) and the GHG Protocol, for example.Alongside other ISEAL members, we are collaborating with Gold Standard to define common practices for calculating GHG emissions reductions and sequestration. This project aims to help companies quantify the emission reductions that result from specific supply chain interventions like sourcing certified products. It will also help companies report against their Science Based Targets or other climate performance mechanisms. This will ultimately drive sustainability at a landscape-scale by encouraging the sourcing of commodities with improved climate impact.
We need also to remember that, historically, agriculture has not been sufficiently explored at COPs. This year, organisations representing some 350 million farmers and producers published a letter to world leaders ahead of COP27 to push for more funds to help them adapt, diversify their businesses and adopt sustainable practices. And the facts are loud and clear: 62% of developed countries do not integrate agriculture in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and globally, only 3% of public climate finance is currently used for the agricultural sector, while it represents a third of global GHG emissions. Moreover, 87% of public subsidies for agriculture have potential negative effects for the climate, biodiversity, and resilience.
This must change. Millions of farmers worldwide are facing the impacts of the climate crisis and must be supported in learning and implementing new practices to further mitigate their impact on climate change and adapt to its consequences. The floods in Pakistan most recently highlighted the need for action, together with severe drought in many countries.
Recognising these challenges, last year Better Cotton published its Climate Approach to support farmers to face these challenges but also to bring to the fore that sustainable agriculture is part of the solution
So, we’re glad to see that there will be a dedicated Food and Agriculture pavilion at COP27, and a day focused on the sector. This will be an opportunity to explore sustainable pathways to meet the growing population’s need for food and materials. And also, importantly, to understand how we can best direct financial support to smallholders, who currently receive just 1% of agricultural funds yet represent a third of production.
Finally, it’ll be fundamental to understand how we can combine climate considerations with protecting biodiversity, people’s health and ecosystems.
In fact, it is on the agenda at COP27 currently taking place in Sharm El-Skeikh, Egypt where WWF and Meridian Institute are hosting an event that will explore scaling regenerative approaches proving effective in different places around the globe. While Indigenous cultures have practiced it for millennia, today’s climate crisis is giving the approach new urgency. In 2021, retail behemoth Walmart even announced plans to get into the regenerative farming business, and just recently, J. Crew Group announced a pilot to pay cotton farmers utilizing regenerative practices. While there is not yet a universally accepted definition of regenerative agriculture, it centers around farming practices that restore the health of something most of us take for granted—the soil beneath our feet.
Soil is not only the foundation of farming that provides an estimated 95 percent of global food production, but it also plays a vital role in fighting climate change, as soil can lock in and store carbon, acting as a “carbon sink.” Better Cotton—the world’s leading sustainability initiative for cotton—has long been a proponent of regenerative practices, though. As buzz around the topic increases, they want to make sure that the conversation doesn’t miss an important point: regenerative agriculture has to be about people as well as the environment.
“Regenerative agriculture is closely linked to climate action and the need for a just transition,” said Chelsea Reinhardt, director of standards and assurance at Better Cotton. “For Better Cotton, regenerative agriculture is deeply connected to smallholder livelihoods. These farmers are most vulnerable to climate change and have the most to gain from methods that improve yields and resilience.”
Through the Better Cotton Programme and Standard System, which in the 2020-21 cotton season reached 2.9 million farmers across 26 countries, the organization is working to ensure that the shift to climate-smart and regenerative farming is socially and economically inclusive.
What does regenerative farming look like?
While the term regenerative agriculture means different things to different people, the core idea is that farming can give back to, rather than take from, the soil and society. Regenerative agriculture recognizes the interrelatedness of nature, from soil to water to biodiversity. It seeks to not just reduce harm to the environment and people but to also have a net positive impact, enriching the land and the communities who depend on it for generations to come.
What that looks like in practice for farmers can range depending on their local context, but it may include reducing tilling (no-till or low-till), using cover crops and agroforestry systems, rotating livestock with crops, avoiding or minimizing the use of synthetic fertilizers, and maximizing crop diversity through practices such as crop rotation and intercropping. While the scientific community does acknowledge that carbon levels in soils naturally fluctuate over time, these practices have been shown to increase the capacity to capture and store carbon in the soil.
In North Carolina, Better Cotton farmer Zeb Winslow has been reaping the benefits of regenerative practices. When he made the switch from a single grain cover crop, which he had used for many years, to a multi-species cover crop blend, he saw fewer weeds and greater soil moisture retention. He was also able to cut herbicide input by around 25 percent. As the cover crops begin to pay for themselves and Winslow reduces his herbicide input further, economic benefits are likely to be realized in the long-term.
As a cotton farmer from the previous generation, Winslow’s father, also named Zeb Winslow, was skeptical at first.
“In the beginning, I thought it was a crazy idea,” he said. “But now that I’ve seen the benefits, I’ve become more convinced.”
As Winslow said, it isn’t easy for farmers to move away from traditional farming methods. But in the last 10 to 15 years, great strides have been made in understanding what’s going on under the ground. Winslow thinks that as soil knowledge increases, farmers will be better equipped to harmonize with nature, working with the soil instead of fighting against it.
The Better Cotton approach to regenerative agriculture
With the help of on-the-ground partners, Better Cotton Farmers around the world adopt soil and biodiversity management plans, as outlined in the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria, that help them improve the health of their soil, restore degraded areas, and increase wildlife on and off their farms.
But the organization isn’t stopping there. In the latest revision of their Principles and Criteria, Better Cotton is going further to integrate key components of regenerative agriculture. Acknowledging the interrelatedness of soil health, biodiversity and water, the revised standard will merge these three principles into one principle on natural resources. The principle stipulates requirements around core regenerative practices such as maximizing crop diversity and soil cover while minimizing soil disturbance.
“There is a strong interconnected nature between regenerative agriculture and smallholder livelihoods. Regenerative agriculture leads to higher resilience, which in turn, positively influences farmers’ abilities to meet their basic needs over the long term,” said Natalie Ernst, Farm Sustainability Standards Manager at Better Cotton.
Through the Standard revision, a new principle on improving livelihoods will be introduced alongside a strengthened principle on decent work, which ensures workers’ rights, minimum wages, and health and safety standards are met. In addition, for the first time ever, there will be an explicit requirement for consultation with farmers and farm workers to inform decision making related to activity planning, training priorities and objectives for continuous improvement, which underscores the importance of farmer-centricity.
Looking further ahead, Better Cotton is exploring other ways to support access to finance and information that will give farmers and workers more power to make choices that they think are best for themselves and their families.
At the Clinton Global Initiative event in New York this September, the organization announced their intention to pioneer an insetting mechanism with smallholder farmers that would promote and incentivize better agricultural practices, including regenerative practices. Carbon insetting, as opposed to carbon offsetting, allows companies to support projects to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions within their own value chains.
Better Cotton’s traceability system, due to launch in 2023, would provide the backbone for their insetting mechanism. Once implemented, it would enable retail companies to know who grew their Better Cotton and allow them to purchase credits that go directly to farmers.
Better Cotton has issued a stark warning to leaders during COP27: global leaders must not only strengthen their commitment but turn talk into action. They must ensure a just transition for everyone and prioritise climate justice for the world’s farmers and agricultural workforce.
Better Cotton calls for greater collaboration across the fashion sector and its textile value chains to drive greater transparency, advocacy, and action to support smallholder farming communities around the globe. The sector’s key players, including alliances, trade associations, brands, retailers, and governments, must continue to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement to avoid catastrophic climate and environmental tipping points. Better Cotton believes that climate mitigation and adaptation as well as a just transition are only possible if there is sustained investment in regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming.
Leaders must strengthen and accelerate climate interventions that support the world’s smallholder agricultural producers before further catastrophic climate change events change the course of many peoples’ lives.
Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns linked to climate change are likely to make cotton more challenging to grow in many regions. Expected increases in temperatures and the difference in their seasonal patterns could lead to a decrease in the agricultural productivity of some crops. Lower yields will therefore impact the lives of already vulnerable communities. The recent tragic floods in Pakistan illustrate how the cotton sector can be impacted overnight by extremes in weather patterns and affect the livelihoods of millions of people. According to McKinsey, the fashion sector must align with the 1.5-degree pathway over the next eight years and intensify its efforts to make agricultural practices more sustainable. If the textile industry does not address this, the 2030 emissions reduction targets will be missed.
Solutions already exist. Egyptian cotton farmers have been embracing and implementing the Better Cotton Standard as a tool to set metrics and establish more sustainable production practices in recent years. Since 2020, Better Cotton has been working closely with on-the-ground partners – the Cotton Research Institute and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). They help to ensure that Egyptian farmers gain access to the knowledge and tools they need to adopt more sustainable practices and improve their livelihoods. Some 2,000 smallholder cotton farmers in the Kafr El Sheikh and Damietta Governorates of Egypt participate in the Better Cotton programme.
As part of Better Cotton’s bold strategy designed to deliver substantial environmental, social and economic impact across the cotton industry by 2030, it launched its climate change mitigation target in 2021. The target was set to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of Better Cotton produced by 50% by 2030 (from a 2017 baseline). Four additional targets covering soil health, pesticide use, smallholder livelihoods and women’s empowerment are expected to be announced in early 2023 with impact indicators providing robust metrics for tracking and evaluating against the baseline.
Since its formation in 2009 Better Cotton has had a significant impact on the sustainability of the world’s cotton production. For example, on average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower GHG emissions intensity per tonne of lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey, a recent study analysing data from three seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) showed.
Better Cotton is taking the lead in developing solutions for physical traceability enabling retailers and brands to make stronger sustainability claims related to the cotton content and provenance of their products, as well as a mechanism for farmers to be remunerated for their more sustainable practices.
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