Data & Impact Series: Developing Our New and Improved Impact Reporting Model

In the first of a series of articles on data and impact reporting, we explore what our data-driven approach to measuring and reporting on impact will mean for Better Cotton

Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Vibhor Yadav Location: Kodinar, Gujarat, India.
2019. Description: Farmworkers harvesting cotton.
Alia Malik, Senior Director, Data and Traceability, Better Cotton

By Alia Malik, Senior Director, Data and Traceability, Better Cotton

At Better Cotton, we are guided by a principle of continuous improvement. From piloting new farmer tools to our Principles and Criteria revision, we are constantly looking for new ways to best support cotton communities while protecting and restoring the environment. For the last 18 months, we have been optimising our approach to monitoring and reporting results and are happy to announce the development of a new and improved external reporting model that will deliver greater insights and transparency to our programme.

Field-level reporting up until now

Up until now, Better Cotton reported on the results of licensed farmers by gathering data and comparing their performance on specific indicators against those of similar, non-participating farmers, referred to as Comparison Farmers. Under this framework, we sought to determine whether, on average, Better Cotton Farmers did better than the Comparison Farmers in the same country during one growing season. For example, in the 2019-20 season, we measured that Better Cotton Farmers in Pakistan used 11% less water on average than Comparison Farmers.

Figure 1: Results Indicator data from Pakistan for season 2019-2020, taken from Better Cotton’s 2020 Impact Report

This approach was appropriate in the first phase of Better Cotton’s journey, from 2010. It helped us build an evidence base for Better Cotton-promoted practices and allowed us to demonstrate results in just one season while we were rapidly scaling up the programme. However, as Better Cotton’s reach neared the majority of cotton producers in some countries like Mozambique, and in certain production regions of some countries, it became increasingly challenging to obtain reliable data for Comparison Farmers with similar growing conditions and socio-economic situations. In addition, as our organisation and Monitoring & Evaluation department has matured, we recognised that now is the time to strengthen our impact measurement methodologies. So, in 2020, we phased out the collection of Comparison Farmer data. We then faced delays in developing needed IT infrastructure due to the Covid pandemic, but in 2021 began the complex shift to a new analytical approach.

Tracking trends over time, with a suite of evidence and more context

Rather than reporting on results in one season for Better Cotton Farmers vs Comparison Farmers, in the future, Better Cotton will report on the performance of Better Cotton Farmers over a multi-year timeframe. This approach, combined with enhanced contextual reporting, will improve transparency and strengthen the sector’s understanding of local cotton-growing conditions and national trends. It will also help us determine whether Better Cotton Farmers are demonstrating improvement over an extended period.  

Measuring results trends over time is especially relevant in the context of agriculture because of the many factors — some beyond farmers’ control like changing rain patterns, floods, or extreme pest pressure — that can skew a single season’s results. In addition to the enhanced annual results monitoring, we will continue to engage in targeted deep dive research to assess how and why we see the results we do and measure the extent to which the programme is contributing to them.

Ultimately, Better Cotton is committed to promoting and catalysing positive farm-level impact at scale and we’re in it for the long run. Over the last 12 years, we have built up programmes in partnership with dozens of national expert organisations, millions of small-scale farmers, and thousands of individual farmers in large farm contexts. This work happens in the midst of increasing climate change risks, unpredictable weather, and fast evolving policy landscapes. In our current strategic phase toward 2030 and as we work to establish traceability, we also commit to further increase our credibility through more transparent reporting to demonstrate where and how progress is being made and where there is still room for improvement.

Other changes we are making for improved reporting

In addition to the longitudinal approach, we will also be integrating new farm performance indicators into our reporting model as well as a commitment to country life cycle assessments (LCAs).

Farm Performance Indicators

We will incorporate new social and environmental indicators from the newly released Delta Framework. Instead of our previous eight results indicators, we will measure our progress on the 15 from the Delta Framework, plus others linked to our revised Principles and Criteria. This includes new indicators on greenhouse gas emissions and water productivity, among others.

Commitment to country LCAs

Better Cotton has taken a principled approach over the years to not conduct a global life cycle assessment (LCA) due to the numerous credibility pitfalls of using global LCA averages for measuring and claiming programmatic impact. However, the science behind LCAs for some indicators is sound, and Better Cotton recognises that for industry alignment it must adopt an LCA approach. As such, we are currently developing plans for country LCAs that are credible and cost-effective to complement Better Cotton’s multifaceted impact measurement efforts.

Timeline for implementation

  • 2021: The transition to this new reporting model requires a more robust data gathering and management system.  Better Cotton began investment in a major upgrade of its digital data management tools to enable this shift in our analysis and reporting approach.
  • 2022: Considering the scale and reach of Better Cotton, the adjustment takes considerable time, and the new reporting model is still under refinement. Pausing our reporting this year is required to help us put this new system in place.
  • 2023: We plan to launch a call for technical proposals for development of country LCAs in early 2023 and aim to have one to two country LCAs completed by the end of the year to complement our holistic reporting.

More information

Find out more about Better Cotton’s approach to Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning: 

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COP27: Q&A with Better Cotton Climate Change Manager

Better Cotton’s Nathanaël Dominici and Lisa Ventura

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.

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Insights from our Supply Chain Mapping Efforts

Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Eugénie Bacher. Harran, Turkey, 2022. Cotton going through a ginning machine, Mehmet Kızılkaya Tekstil.
Nick Gordon, Traceability Programme Officer at Better Cotton

By Nick Gordon, Traceability Programme Officer, Better Cotton

Cotton can be one of the most challenging commodities to trace. The geographical journey of a cotton t-shirt can span three continents before it reaches the shop floor, often changing hands seven times or more. Agents, intermediaries and traders operate at every stage, providing fundamental services from assessing quality to linking farmers and other players to markets. And there’s no one clear path – cotton bales from different countries can be spun into the same yarn and sent to multiple different mills to be woven into fabric. This makes it challenging to trace the cotton in any given product back to its source.

To enable the physical tracing of cotton, Better Cotton is developing its own traceability capability through the existing Better Cotton Platform, set to launch in late-2023. To support this, we’ve created a series of supply chain maps to better understand the realities of key cotton trading countries. We’ve used data insights, stakeholder interviews, and the experiences of local supply chain actors to shed light on how things work in different countries and regions, and identify the key challenges to traceability.

Central to the programme will be our evolving Chain of Custody Standard (which is currently out for public consultation). This will prompt operational changes for manufacturers and traders alike. It’s vital the Standard acknowledges regional variation and is achievable for suppliers in the Better Cotton network. We’ll keep applying the knowledge and lessons we’re learning to ensure any changes meet the wants and needs of Better Cotton stakeholders.

What have we learnt so far?

Informal economies play an important role in Better Cotton producing countries

Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Eugénie Bacher. Harran, Turkey, 2022. Better Cotton bales, Mehmet Kızılkaya Tekstil.

It’s no secret that enabling traceability is more straightforward in larger, vertically integrated supply networks. The fewer times material changes hands, the shorter the paper trail, and the greater likelihood of being able to trace cotton back to its source. However, not all transactions are equally documentable, and the reality is that informal work acts as a crucial support mechanism for many smaller actors, connecting them with resources and markets.

Traceability should empower people who are already often marginalised by global supply chains and protect smallholders’ access to markets. Engaging with stakeholders and responding to their needs and concerns is a critical first step in making sure these voices don’t go unheard.

It’s important to create the right digital solutions

New, innovative technology solutions are available for use in the cotton supply chain – everything from smart devices and GPS technology on farms to state-of-the-art integrated computer systems on the factory floor. However, not all actors in the sector – many of whom are smallholder farmers or small to medium-sized businesses – have embraced technology to the same extent. When introducing a digital traceability system, we need to consider varying levels of digital literacy, and make sure any system we introduce is readily understandable and easy to use, while also fitting the needs of users. In particular, we’re conscious that the gaps are greatest at the early stages of the supply chain, among cotton farms and ginners, for example. Yet it’s precisely at these stages that we need the most accurate data – this is essential to ensuring physical traceability.

Better Cotton will be testing two new traceability platforms in an India pilot this year. Prior to roll out of any new digital system, capacity building and training will be crucial.

Economic challenges are changing behaviours in the marketplace

Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Eugénie Bacher. Harran, Turkey, 2022. Pile of cotton, Mehmet Kızılkaya Tekstil.

The impact of the pandemic, coupled with challenging economic conditions, are changing behaviours in cotton supply chains. For example, in light of fluctuating cotton prices, yarn producers in certain countries are replenishing stocks at a more cautious pace than others. Some suppliers are concentrating on long-term supplier relationships, or searching for new supply networks. Predicting how much customers might order is becoming less easy, and for many, margins remain low.

Amid this uncertainty, the opportunity to sell physically traceable cotton could offer a market advantage. So, in the same way that cultivating Better Cotton helps farmers to achieve better prices for their cotton – 13% more for their cotton than conventional cotton farmers in Nagpur, according to a Wageningen University study – traceability also presents a real opportunity to create further value for Better Cotton Farmers. For example, carbon insetting frameworks, underpinned by a traceability solution, could reward farmers for implementing sustainable practices. Better Cotton is already engaging with all stakeholders across the supply chain to understand the business case for traceability and identify ways to increase value for members.

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New study on Better Cotton’s impact in India shows improved profitability and positive environmental impact 

A brand-new study into the impact of the Better Cotton programme in India, conducted by Wageningen University and Research between 2019 and 2022, has found significant benefits for Better Cotton farmers in the region. 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 study examined farmers in the Indian regions of Maharashtra (Nagpur) and Telangana (Adilabad), and compared the results with farmers in the same areas who did not follow Better Cotton guidance. Better Cotton works with Programme Partners at farm level to enable farmers to adopt more sustainable practices, for example, better managing pesticides and fertilisers. 

The study 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.

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Summary: Towards sustainable cotton farming: India Impact Study – Wageningen University & Research

Summary: Towards sustainable cotton farming: India Impact Study – Wageningen University & Research
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Towards sustainable cotton farming: India Impact Study – Wageningen University & Research

Towards sustainable cotton farming: India Impact Study – Wageningen University & Research

Reducing pesticides and improving environmental impact 

Overall, Better Cotton Farmers decreased their costs for synthetic insecticide by almost 75%, a notable decrease compared to non-Better Cotton Farmers. On average, Better Cotton Farmers in Adilabad and Nagpur saved US$44 per farmer during the season on synthetic insecticides and herbicides expenses during the season, significantly reducing their costs and their environmental impact.  

Increasing overall profitability 

Better Cotton Farmers in Nagpur received around US$0.135/kg more for their cotton than non-Better Cotton Farmers, the equivalent of a 13% price increase. Overall, Better Cotton contributed to an increase in farmers’ seasonal profitability of US$82 per acre, equivalent to about US$500 income for an average cotton farmer in Nagpur.  

Better Cotton strives to ensure that cotton production is more sustainable. 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.”

For the baseline, the researchers surveyed 1,360 farmers. The majority of farmers involved were middle-aged, literate smallholders, who use most of their land for agriculture, with around 80% used for cotton farming.  

Wageningen University in the Netherlands is a globally important centre for life sciences and agricultural research. Through this impact report, Better Cotton seeks to analyse the effectiveness of its programmes. The survey demonstrates the clear added value for profitability and environmental protections in the development of a more sustainable cotton sector. 

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What the Conclusion of the Delta Project Means for Better Cotton: Q&A with Eliane Augareils

In the push to transform the way cotton and other crops are grown around the world, there remains a big roadblock: the lack of a common language for what sustainability means and how to report and measure progress. This was the impetus for the Delta Project, an initiative to bring leading sustainability standard organisations together to build a common framework for measuring and reporting on sustainability performance in the agricultural commodity sector, starting with cotton and coffee. The project was made possible by a grant from the ISEAL Innovations Fund, which is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO and spearheaded by Better Cotton and the Global Coffee Platform (GCP).

Over the past three years, Delta Project partners — Better Cotton, GCP, the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) Expert Panel on Social, Environmental and Economic Performance (SEEP) of Cotton Production, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) and the Cotton 2040 working group on impact metrics alignment* — developed, field-tested and published a set of 15 cross-commodity environmental, social and economic indicators to measure sustainability at the farm-level. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with the Cotton 2040 working group members to gradually incorporate relevant metrics and indicators into their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems.

The Delta indicators align with and allow users to report progress against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the tools and methodologies are broad enough to be used by other agricultural sectors, as well.

To learn more about the project and what it means for Better Cotton Partners and Members, we spoke to Eliane Augareils, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Better Cotton.

Why is it important to create a shared language for sustainability standards to communicate and report on sustainability?

Eliane Augareils, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Better Cotton.

EA: Every standard has different ways of defining and measuring sustainability. In the cotton sector, for example, even when we are assessing the same thing, like water savings, we all have very different ways of measuring and reporting on it. That makes it challenging for a cotton stakeholder to understand the added value of sustainable cotton, whether that’s Better Cotton, organic, Fairtrade, etc. It is also impossible to aggregate the progress made by multiple standards. Now, if we implement what we committed to through the Delta Project, we can analyse the sustainable cotton sector’s progress as a whole.

What is the significance and value of the MOU signed by the Cotton 2040 working group?

EA: The MOU is an important result of the collaboration between all the cotton standards and organisations in the working group. It’s a commitment from these standards to integrate all the relevant Delta indicators into their respective M&E systems. It’s very important because it shows a strong willingness by the cotton sector to establish a common definition of sustainable cotton and a common way to measure progress. It also represents an increased spirit of collaboration between standards to act collectively towards our shared goals.    

How were the indicators developed?

EA: We carried out a thorough consultation process for a year, reaching out to over 120 people representing 54 organisations from the agricultural private and public sectors. We first identified the sustainability impact priorities for the cotton and coffee sectors, and the stakeholders formulated nine shared goals across the three dimensions of sustainability — economic, social and environmental — all linked to the SDGs.  

We then looked at over 200 indicators used by several commodity platforms and initiatives to measure progress towards these sustainability goals, in particular the Coffee Data Standard developed earlier by GCP, and the Guidance Framework on Measuring Sustainability in Cotton Farming Systems published by the ICAC-SEEP panel. Considering the interdependencies between the three sustainability dimensions, we recognised that the set of Delta indicators would need to be seen and adopted as a whole. This meant we needed to get to a much smaller set. We eventually selected 15 indicators, based on their global relevance, usefulness and feasibility in monitoring progress towards sustainable agricultural commodities. We then worked with experts to identify the best existing methodologies and tools, or develop new ones, to collect and analyse the data points needed for each indicator.

How were the indicators tested?

EA: Many of the organisations involved in the project ran pilots to test the draft indicators on real farms. These pilots provided critical feedback on the draft indicators, especially on the methodologies we developed to calculate them. Some indicators were very straightforward, for instance calculating yields or profitability, which is something we all do already. But other indicators like soil health, water and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were completely new for most of us. The pilots helped us understand the feasibility of implementation, and then we adapted the methodologies accordingly. For the water indicator, we refined it to make it more adaptable to different contexts, such as smallholder settings and different climates. In areas where monsoons are common, for example, the amount of water must be calculated differently. Without the pilots, we would only have a theoretical framework, and now it’s based on practice. Additionally, based on the lessons learnt from the pilots, we added limitations for each indicator, which allows us to be very transparent on the implementation and data collection challenges. For some indicators, like GHG emissions, that require a lot of data points, we also tried to identify which data points are the most important to get representative results.

How will the Delta Framework be integrated into existing M&E systems of the participating sustainability standards?

EA: So far, some of the standards — including Better Cotton, Fairtrade, Textile Exchange, the Organic Cotton Accelerator and Cotton Connect — have piloted several of the indicators, but they haven’t all been implemented in their M&E frameworks yet. The learnings of those pilots can be seen here.

Has Better Cotton already incorporated the Delta Framework indicators into the Better Cotton M&E system?

EA: Delta indicators 1, 2, 3a, 5, 8 and 9 are already included in our M&E system and indicators 12 and 13 are included in our assurance system. We are planning to gradually integrate the others into our revised M&E system.

How will the Delta Framework benefit Better Cotton Members and Partners?

EA: It will provide our members and partners with more robust and relevant information they can use to report their contribution to more sustainable cotton production. Instead of our previous eight results indicators, we will measure our progress on the 15 from the Delta Framework, plus a few others linked to our Principles & Criteria. This will enable Better Cotton Members and Partners to better track progress made towards the Better Cotton expected outcomes and impact.

The changes in how we report on GHG emissions and water will be of particular interest. We will systematize the calculation of GHG emissions and hopefully be able to give an approximate carbon footprint for Better Cotton cultivation in each of the countries where we are active. The indicators will also help us better assess the water footprint of cultivating Better Cotton. Until now, we only quantified the volume of water used by Better Cotton Farmers compared to non-Better Cotton Farmers, but in the near future, we will also calculate irrigation efficiency and water productivity. This will show how much cotton is produced per unit of water used and how much water is actually benefitting a farmer’s crop. In addition, we are now shifting our M&E system towards longitudinal analysis, in which we will analyse the same group of Better Cotton Farmers over multiple years, rather than comparing the performance of Better Cotton Farmers to the performance of non-Better Cotton Farmers each year. This will give us a better picture of our progress in the medium and long term.

What will these changes mean for Better Cotton farming communities?

EA: Standards often take a lot of time collecting participating farmers’ data, yet the farmers rarely see any results from this. One of our key goals for the Delta Project was to give farmers their data in a meaningful way. For example, a smallholder farmer doesn’t benefit much from knowing their carbon footprint, but they would benefit a lot from knowing the evolution of their soil organic content and of their pesticide and fertiliser use over the years and how that relates to the evolution of their yield and profitability. Even better if they know how that compares to their peers. The idea is to provide this information as soon as possible after the end of the harvest, so that farmers can use it to adequately prepare for the next season.

Will the Delta Framework demand more of farmers’ time for data collection?

EA: No, it shouldn’t, because one of the objectives of the pilot was to source more data from secondary sources like remote sensing devices, satellite images, or other data sources that can provide us with the same information with greater accuracy, all while minimizing time spent with the farmer.

How will we know if the indicators have been successful and supported progress towards the SDGs?

EA: Because the indicators are closely aligned with the SDG framework, we think the use of the Delta indicators will certainly help in tracking progress towards the SDGs. But in the end, the Delta Framework is only an M&E framework. It’s what the organisations do with this information and how they use it to guide farmers and partners in the field that will determine whether it helps them progress towards the actual goals.

Is data from different standards being stored in one place?

EA: At the moment, every organisation is in charge of keeping their data and consolidating it to report externally. At Better Cotton, we will use the data to create country ‘dashboards’ as well as dashboards for our Programme Partners so that they can see precisely what is going well and what is lagging.

Ideally, a neutral entity like ISEAL could create a centralized platform where data from all the (agriculture) standards could be stored, aggregated and analysed. We have developed comprehensive guidance in the Delta Framework Digitisation Package to support organisations in ensuring that the data is registered and stored in a way that would allow for aggregation in the future. However, the difficulty will be to convince the standards to share their data while complying with data privacy regulations.

What’s next for the Delta Framework and indicators?

EA: An indicators framework is a living thing. It is never ‘done’ and will need constant nurturing and evolution. But for now, the indicators, along with their corresponding methodologies, tools and guidance materials, are available on the Delta Framework website for anyone to use. Moving forward, we are looking for an organisation to take ownership of the Framework and regularly review the relevance of the indicators as well as the potential new tools and methodologies available to measure them.

What does this framework mean for the future of the cotton sector and for sustainable cotton production?

EA: A key point is the fact that different sustainable cotton actors will use a common language for sustainability and report in a harmonised way so that we can unify and strengthen our voice as a sector. The other benefit of this work is the increased collaboration among the main sustainable cotton actors. We consulted many organisations within the cotton sector, we piloted the indicators together, and we shared our learnings. I think that the outcome of the Delta Project so far is not only the framework itself, but also a stronger willingness to collaborate with each other — and that’s very important.

* The Cotton 2040 working group includes Better Cotton, Cotton Made in Africa, Cotton Connect, Fairtrade, myBMP, Organic Cotton Accelerator, Textile Exchange, Forum for the Future and the Laudes Foundation

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Better Cotton and partners launch Delta Framework to harmonise sustainability reporting

With our partners, we are pleased to launch the Delta Framework, a common set of environmental, social, and economic indicators to measure sustainability across the cotton and coffee commodity sectors.  

The Delta Framework was developed in collaboration with Better Cotton’s cross-sector partners over the past 3 years, with the goal of producing a more harmonised way of measuring and reporting on the progress of farms participating in sustainable commodity certification schemes or other sustainable agriculture initiatives. 

“Better Cotton is proud to have initiated and coordinated this cross-sector collaboration, which brings together expertise from across the agricultural sector. The Delta Framework is making it easier for the private sector, governments and farmers to report effectively on sustainability progress, leading to improvements in the quality of support and services provided to farmers, including better financing and government policies.” 

Better Cotton CEO, Alan McClay

Together, the cross-sector programme agreed on key sustainability indicators and guidance materials that were extensively tested by the Project participants and other stakeholders. As a result, eight sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes (members of the Cotton 2040 Working Group on Impact Metrics alignment) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they commit to align on Impacts Measurement and Reporting. Each member has committed to identifying an individual timeline for integrating relevant Delta indicators into their own monitoring, evaluation and reporting systems over time. The framework also provides an opportunity to develop cross-sector services to respond to farmers’ concerns and challenges, while making it easier to report progress. 

The Delta Framework is an important reference and guidance for sustainability standards on key indicators that they can use to track and demonstrate their contribution to sustainability impacts. As attention for sustainability grows, it is becoming even more critical for all organizations working in sustainability to be able to communicate effectively about the difference they make, and the Delta Framework will be an important common reference for sustainability standards in this regard. Through this project we’ve recognized that an indicator framework isn’t a static thing. As the Delta Framework gets used, we are learning about further refinements and improvements that will keep it relevant in the future, and Delta Framework partners and ISEAL will continue to explore how to build on the Framework. It will be important for sustainability standards to see an interest in the data coming out of use of the Delta Framework by industry and other stakeholders. If there’s a clear demand for that information, that will provide an important incentive for sustainability standards to invest in the developments needed to fully integrate the Delta Framework in their performance measurement systems.

Kristin Komives, ISEAL

“The Delta Framework bridged the gap between the data collected by downstream supply chain actors and the information received by farmers. Beyond developing a framework for private and public supply chain actors to collect data and report on sustainability outcomes in an aligned manner, farmers in the pilots also received actionable recommendations and were able to improve their practices” 

George Watene, Global Coffee Platform

“I found the recommendations from the project practical and useful. In fact, the recommended amount of fertilizers was lower than the amount we were using; with my family, we adopted more sustainable practices by reducing synthetic fertilizers and increasing organic ones. I know that adopting these practices will strengthen the health of soil on our plot”,

Coffee farmer who participated in the GCP pilot in Vietnam

Through the work of the Delta Project, the major sustainable cotton standards have made significant progress towards adopting a common core set of indicators to report against. The implications of this are huge: once implemented, it enables these standards to tell a common narrative, backed up with evidence, about the positive impacts (as well as the reduction of negative impacts) that sustainable production creates. This will help to increase uptake by brands needing to make comprehensive and reliable sustainability claims to consumers and investors about the products they sell. Forum for the Future is proud to have partnered with the Delta Project in reaching this significant achievement.

Charlene Collison, from Forum for the Future, Facilitator of the Cotton 2040 platform

The Delta Framework was made possible by a grant from the ISEAL Innovations Fund, which is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO. The project collaborators include major sustainability standard organisations from the cotton and coffee sectors. The founding organisations are Better Cotton, the Global Coffee Platform (GCP), the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) and the International Coffee Association (ICO).  

More information and resources about the Delta Framework are available on the website: 

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What Is Soil Health? Better Cotton Launches New Soil Health Series

Soil is quite literally the foundation of farming. Without it, we could neither grow cotton nor support our growing global population. We know first-hand at Better Cotton that improved soil health can enhance productivity and yields, which also directly improves farmer incomes. Not only that, but many soil health management practices are also climate change mitigation measures. These measures stand to make a big impact when considering that global soils contain more carbon than vegetation and the atmosphere combined.

That’s why soil health is one of five impact targets that we are developing at Better Cotton as part of our 2030 Strategy, and an area we will be focusing our attention on over the coming weeks.

In our new Soil Health Series, we’re exploring the wonderful and complex universe beneath our feet, looking at why good soil health is so important and what Better Cotton, our partners and Better Cotton Farmers are doing to support healthy soils and the future of sustainable agriculture.

To kick off the series, we outline the five key factors that impact soil health. Learn more in the video above.

Look out for more content over the coming weeks, or visit our soil health webpage to learn more.

Learn more about Better Cotton and soil health

Take a look at the 2030 Strategy

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