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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Better Cotton Launches Our New 2030 Strategy and Climate Change Mitigation Target

Better Cotton’s mission is to help cotton farming communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment. Since 2009, Better Cotton has developed, tested and applied our Standard, whilst growing our reach to include 2.4 million licensed farmers around the world. Now is the time to deploy this scale to generate deeper impact.

Today, Better Cotton launches our 2030 Strategy, including a climate change mitigation target to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of Better Cotton produced by 50% by 2030. This is the first of five ambitious targets to be set, with the remaining four expected to be released by the end of 2022.

These progressive new metrics will allow better measurement across five key areas to ensure greater lasting economic, environmental and social benefits at farm level for cotton growing communities.

We – together with Better Cotton Members and Partners – want to see real, measurable change on the ground in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We encourage continuous improvement at farm level, wherever cotton farmers are on their sustainability journey.

Headshots of Better Cotton CEO, Alan McClay, by Jay Louvion, in Geneva.

Learn more about our 2030 Strategy.

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Better Cotton Appears in Ecotextile News Speaking on Plans for a Physical Traceability Solution

On 8 December 2021, Ecotextile News published “Better Cotton plans €25m traceability system”, speaking to Alia Malik, Senior Director of Data and Traceability, and Josh Taylor, Senior Traceability Coordinator, about our collaboration across the sector and long-term plans for developing full physical traceability in the cotton supply chain.

Innovating towards full physical traceability

While we are learning from traceability solutions that exist, we also understand that achieving full physical traceability is a hugely ambitious, very complex piece of work that will require new approaches to suit the needs along the cotton supply chain. We have estimated that the project will require €25 million in funding over four years and launch by the end of 2023 to supplement the current mass balance system.

Better Cotton will launch a digital traceability platform. So we’re going to go for the great big innovation now.

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

Collaborating across the sector

Better Cotton has been working closely with a panel of retailers and brands since last year to understand how we may deliver traceability in a way most meaningful for our members and to facilitate the inclusion of producers in increasingly regulated international value chains by connecting the supply chain through traceability. We understand that continued collaboration will be essential to inspire, influence and learn from our partnerships.

ISEAL are very interested in this because, with the changing regulatory landscape, a lot of different standard systems outside of apparel, as well as in it, are looking at what tweaks they need to make to support better traceability. So it’s something that we have the opportunity to lead and to help shape for the sector.

Read the full Ecotextile News article, “Better Cotton plans €25m traceability system”.

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Participate in Cotton 2040’s Roundtable Events to Create a Climate-Resilient Cotton Sector

Earlier this year, Cotton 2040, with partners Acclimatise and support from Laudes Foundation, authored the first-ever global analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s, as well as a Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India. Cotton 2040 are now inviting you to join us for three roundtable events where we will dive into this data in deeper detail, sharing a geography-specific analysis of the expected impacts and implications across different cotton growing regions, seeking to understand the critical impacts for actors across the supply chain and to collectively prioritise both urgent and long-term action across the cotton sector.

Apply to participate in this series of roundtable events through November and December 2021, where Cotton 2040 and its partners will come together to future-proof the cotton sector through climate and social adaptation. The three two-hour roundtable sessions are designed to build on each other over the course of five weeks and participants are encouraged to attend all three sessions. Each session will run online twice on each date, to suit time zones across the Americas, Europe, Africa, India and South East Asia.

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Find more details on the roundtable events and register here.

  1. Roundtable 1: Thursday 11 November: Understanding the climate risks facing the cotton sector and exploring the implications for future production
  2. Roundtable 2: Tuesday 30 November: Developing a deeper understanding of the adaptation response required to build a more climate resilient cotton sector
  3. Roundtable 3: Tuesday, 14 December: Shaping a pathway towards collaborative action for a climate resilient cotton sector

Roundtable Conveners: 

  • Dhaval Negandhi, Associate Director of Climate Change, Forum for the Future
  • Erin Owain, Lead Associate – Climate and Resilience Hub, and Alastair Baglee, Director, Corporates – Climate & Resilience Hub, Willis Towers Watson
  • Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Sustainable Value Chains and Livelihoods, Forum for the Future

How is Better Cotton contributing?

As part of Cotton 2040’s ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’ working group, Better Cotton worked with partners to develop the resources released earlier this year, particularly in setting up regional working groups to discuss how to optimise data in India and other regions. We will continue to use this research to feed into our climate strategy and prioritise areas with high climate risk.

Better Cotton looks forward to using the valuable outcomes of the Cotton 2040 Climate Change Adaptation workstream to better understand priority regions to focus on, and to identify specific climate hazards facing farmers in these areas. Better Cotton also welcomes the highly useful research in the India Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment report, which points to a strong linkage between climate change resilience and socio-economic factors such as poverty, literacy, and female work participation. This underscores the importance of a holistic approach in helping cotton farmers better adapt to climate change, and reinforces the need for Better Cotton to work closely with multiple partners on this front.

The Better Cotton Initiative is a proud member of Cotton 2040 – a cross-industry partnership that brings retailers and brands, cotton standards and industry initiatives together to align efforts in priority areas for action. Read more about Better Cotton’s collaboration with Cotton 2040:

  • Delta Framework – during 2019 and 2020, we have been working collaboratively with fellow sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes via the Cotton 2040 Impacts Alignment Working Group to align sustainability impact indicators and metrics for cotton farming systems.
  • CottonUP – an interactive guide to help brands and retailers fast track sustainable sourcing across multiple standards, the CottonUP Guide answers three big questions about sourcing sustainable cotton: why it’s important, what you need to know and do, and how to get started.

Learn more about Cotton 2040’s ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’ workstream by visiting their microsite.

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The Importance of Collaboration: COP26 and the Better Cotton Climate Approach

By Alan McClay, Better Cotton, CEO

The UN Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP26, is finally here. The world is watching as global leaders, scientists, climate change experts, companies and civil society convene to tackle the most pressing issue of our time. Climate change is a cross-cutting theme in the Better Cotton programme, addressed through sustainable farming practices across the Better Cotton Principles & Criteria. Promoting these field practices across our 25 programme countries has helped us lay a foundation for mitigating climate change and supporting adaption at the farm-level. But in 2021, we are going further, developing an ambitious climate change approach as a part of our 2030 Strategy.

Our aim is to reduce the impact of cotton on the climate emergency. This impact has been estimated by the Carbon Trust at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. With our scale and network, Better Cotton can help accelerate the transition to reduce emissions and include Better Cotton Farmers in the solution, supporting cotton farming communities to prepare, adapt and build resilience for climate change and its related impacts. Our climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition — and our focus areas align with the four main goals of COP26. As COP26 kicks off, we are taking a closer look at a few of these goals and what they mean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners.

Alan McClay, Better Cotton CEO

COP26 Goal 4: Work together to deliver

We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

COP26 goal number four, ‘work together to deliver’, is perhaps the most critical, because finalising the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and accelerating action to tackle the climate crisis can only be achieved through effective collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society. Likewise, transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. Hand-in-hand with the Better Cotton community, we aim to work with every link in the supply chain, from farmer to consumer, as well as governments, civil society organisations and funders.

New approaches for collaboration

In our new climate approach, we are leveraging our network with almost 100 Strategic and Implementing Partners. We are working in the field to engage new audiences, particularly global and national policy makers and funders who are interested in investing in climate change emergency solutions. We are exploring opportunities offered by carbon markets and Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes, especially in the context of smallholders. We are also working to strengthen the voices of stakeholders at farm-level, helping to empower farming communities with the right incentives and governance systems. The way farmers structure themselves into associations, working groups or organisations, for example, will be crucial to increase the adoption rates of effective mitigation practices, and to build convincing cases for enabling GHG mitigation. Ultimately, we aim to inspire, influence, and learn from actors at every level of the supply chain, because Better Cotton is not just a commodity but a movement to be shared by everyone concerned by cotton and its sustainable future.

Local solutions for global change

As COP26 is highlighting, no country is insulated from the effects of climate change, but each country’s exact climate risks and hazards are highly localised. From extreme drought in India and Pakistan to soil-borne fungus attacks in central Israel, climate change already affects farmers in Better Cotton growing regions and its effects will increase rapidly. Importantly, solutions will require global and local partnerships. Here again, collaboration will be essential.

With our new climate approach, we are developing country-level roadmaps for mitigation and adaptation informed by Cotton 2040’s analysis of climate risks across cotton growing regions. This evaluation has allowed us to understand better the projected impacts of climate change in cotton production regions, including extreme weather events, soil degradation, increased pest pressure, droughts and flooding, which will result in social impacts such as labour migration, less access to education, reduced yields and rural food insecurity. The analysis has allowed us to prioritise areas where the Better Cotton footprint is prominent and the climate change impacts are most extreme, for example: India, Pakistan and Mozambique, among others. As leaders at COP26 share their country’s unique challenges and ‘work together to deliver’, we will be listening and will work to set ambitious targets in line with COP26 outcomes.

Better Cotton Members taking action for COP26

Check out the commitments and actions from Better Cotton Members:

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Better Cotton Releases First Study on GHG Emissions

Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Demarcus Bowser Location: Burlison, Tennessee, USA. 2019. Cotton bales being transported from Brad Williams’ farm.

A new report published on 15 October 2021 has revealed the first-ever quantification of global greenhouse gas emissions of Better Cotton and comparable production. The report, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton licensed farmers’ cotton production.

Anthesis analysed more than 200,000 farm assessments from three seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) and used the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG emissions calculation engine. The primary data provided by Better Cotton covered input use and types, farm sizes, production and approximate geographical locations, while some information was filled via desk research where primary data was not available.

The aims of this study were two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers. Secondly, we wanted to quantify emissions for producers contributing 80% of Better Cotton global production and use this baseline to set a global emissions reductions target for 2030.

Results from our comparative analysis

To understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers, comparison data was provided by Better Cotton. Each season its partners collect and report data from farmers cultivating cotton in the same geographic areas using same or similar technologies, but who are not yet participating in the Better Cotton programme. The study found that on average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Over half of the difference in emissions performance between Better Cotton and comparison production was due to difference in emissions from fertiliser production. A further 28% of the difference was because of emissions from irrigation. 

On average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

Analysis that informs Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy

We aim to make, and demonstrate, positive real-world change for the climate. This means having a baseline and measuring change over time. To help inform our forthcoming 2030 strategy and associated global target on emissions reduction, we requested a separate piece of analysis to assess emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. The analysis breaks down emissions drivers for each state or province per country. This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

The study found production had average annual GHG emissions of 8.74 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents to produce 2.98 million tonnes lint – equating to 2.93 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne lint produced. Unsurprisingly, the largest emissions hotspot was found to be fertiliser production, which accounted for 47% of total emissions from Better Cotton production. Irrigation and fertiliser application were also found to be significant drivers of emissions.

Better Cotton’s next steps on GHG Emissions

Set a 2030 Target

  • Better Cotton will set a 2030 target on GHG emissions reduction. This will be informed by climate science and the collective ambition of the apparel and textile sector, including notably the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member.
  • Better Cotton’s emissions target will sit within our comprehensive climate change strategy currently under development.
Photo Credit: BCI/Vibhor Yadav

Take Action Towards the Target

  • Given their sizable contribution to total emissions, reductions in the use of synthetic fertilisers and irrigation can unlock significant reductions in emissions. Efficiency improvements through better yields will also contribute to reducing emissions intensity, i.e. GHGs emitted per tonne of cotton grown.
  • The adoption of management practices such as cover cropping, mulching, no/reduced tillage and application of organic manures offer significant opportunities to reduce emissions through carbon sequestration. These practices can simultaneously have a positive impact on conserving soil moisture and enhancing soil health.
  • Galvanising collective action where it matters most will also support emissions reductions – this includes identifying hotspots, leveraging new resources and advocating for change outside Better Cotton’s direct scope (e.g. approximately 10% of Better Cotton emissions to produce cotton lint comes from ginning. If half the ginning operations were supported to transition away from fossil fuel-powered energy to renewables, Better Cotton emissions would reduce by 5%).

Photo Credit: BCI/Morgan Ferrar.

Monitor & Report Against the Target

  • Better Cotton is partnering on a project led by the Gold Standard, which will provide guidance and credibility to Better Cotton’s emissions quantification method. We are testing the Cool Farm Tool as a scientific, credible and scalable approach to help us monitor change in emissions over time.
  • The collection of additional data from Better Cotton farmers and projects will enable refinement of the emissions quantification process in subsequent years.

Download the report below and access our recent Better Cotton Update on Measuring and Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Webinar and presentation slides to find more details from the report.

Learn more about Better Cotton’s work on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

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World Cotton Day – A Message from Better Cotton’s CEO

Alan McClay Headshot
Alan McClay, Better Cotton CEO

Today, on World Cotton Day, we are happy to be celebrating the farming communities around the world that provide us with this essential natural fibre.

The social and environmental challenges we came together to address in 2005, when Better Cotton was founded, are even more urgent today, and two of those challenges — climate change and gender equality — stand to be the key issues of our time. But there are also clear actions we can take to solve them. 

When we look at climate change, we see the scale of the task ahead. At Better Cotton, we are drawing up our own climate change strategy to help farmers deal with these painful effects. Importantly, the strategy will also address the cotton sector’s contribution to climate change, which The Carbon Trust estimates at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. The good news is that the technologies and practices to address these issues are already there — we only need to put them in place.

Cotton and climate change – an illustration from India

Photo Credit: BCI/Florian Lang Location: Surendranagar, Gujarat, India. 2018. Description: BCI Lead Farmer Vinodbhai Patel (48) in his field. While many farmers are burning the weed stubble, which is left on the field, Vinoodbhai is leaving the remaining stalks. The stalks will later get ploughed into the earth to increase the biomass in the soil.

At Better Cotton, we’ve witnessed the disruption that climate change brings first-hand. In Gujarat, India, Better Cotton Farmer Vinodbhai Patel struggled for years with low, irregular rainfall, poor soil quality and pest infestations on his cotton farm in the village of Haripar. But without access to knowledge, resources or capital, he, along with many other smallholder farmers in his region, relied partially on government subsidies for conventional fertilisers, as well as credit from local shopkeepers to buy traditional agro-chemical products. Over time, these products only degraded the soil further, making it harder to grow healthy plants.

Vinodbhai now uses exclusively biological fertilisers and pesticides to produce cotton on his six-hectare farm — and he is encouraging his peers to do the same. By managing insect-pests using ingredients sourced from nature — at no cost to him — and planting his cotton plants more densely, by 2018, he had reduced his pesticide costs by 80% compared to the 2015-2016 growing season, while increasing his overall production by over 100% and his profit by 200%.  

The potential for change becomes even greater when we factor women into the equation. There’s mounting evidence that shows the relationship between gender equality and climate change adaptation. In other words, we are seeing that when women’s voices are elevated, they make decisions that benefit everyone, including driving the adoption of more sustainable practices.

Gender Equality – an illustration from Pakistan

Photo Credit: BCI/Khaula Jamil. Location: Vehari District, Punjab, Pakistan, 2018. Description: Almas Parveen, BCI Farmer and Field Facilitator, delivering a BCI training session to BCI Farmers and Farm-workers in the same Learning Group (LG). Almas is discussing how to select the correct cotton seed.

Almas Parveen, a cotton farmer in the Vehari district of Punjab, Pakistan is familiar with these struggles. In her corner of rural Pakistan, entrenched gender roles mean women often have little opportunity to influence farming practices or business decisions, and female cotton workers are often restricted to low paid, manual tasks, with less job security than men.

Almas, however, was always determined to overcome these norms. Since 2009, she’s been running her family’s nine-hectare cotton farm herself. While that alone was remarkable, her motivation didn’t stop there. With support from our Implementing Partner in Pakistan, Almas became a Better Cotton Field Facilitator to enable other farmers — both men and women — to learn and benefit from sustainable farming techniques. At first, Almas’ faced opposition from members of her community, but in time, the farmers’ perceptions changed as her technical knowledge and sound advice resulted in tangible benefits on their farms. In 2018, Almas increased her yields by 18% and her profits by 23% compared to the previous year. She also achieved a 35% reduction in pesticide use. In the 2017-18 season, the average Better Cotton Farmer in Pakistan increased their yields by 15%, and reduced their pesticide use by 17%, in comparison to non-Better Cotton Farmers.

The issues of climate change and gender equality serve as powerful lenses with which to view the current state of the cotton sector. They show us that our vision of a sustainable world, where cotton farmers and workers know how to cope — with threats to the environment, low productivity and even limiting societal norms — is within reach. They also show us that a new generation of cotton farming communities will be able to make a decent living, have a strong voice in the supply chain and meet growing consumer demand for more sustainable cotton. 

The bottom line is that transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. So, on this World Cotton Day, as we all take this time to listen and learn from each other, reflecting on the importance and role of cotton around the world, I’d like to encourage us to band together and leverage our resources and networks.

Together, we can deepen our impact and catalyse systemic change. Together, we can make the transformation to a sustainable cotton sector — and world — a reality.

Alan McClay

CEO, Better Cotton

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Better Cotton Appears in Ecotextile News Addressing Climate Change

On 4 October 2021, Ecotextile News published “Can cotton cool climate change?”, exploring the role cotton growing plays in climate change. The article looks closely at Better Cotton’s climate strategy and draws from an interview with Lena Staafgard, COO, and Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance, to understand how we plan to impact climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Accelerating the pace of change

With Better Cotton’s recent study on GHG emissions commissioned with Anthesis and our work with Cotton 2040, we now have better information to identify the areas contributing most to emissions and which regions will be most affected by climate change. Our existing Standard and programmes implemented on-the-ground by partners and farmers across the Better Cotton network currently address these issue areas. But we need to act fast to build on what already exists to deepen our impact.

What we are looking to do really is to refine our focus and accelerate the pace of change, to have a deeper impact in those particular areas that are the big drivers of emissions.

– Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance

Collaborating across the cotton sector

The recent Cotton 2040 study shows that half of all cotton growing areas are at high risk of extreme weather conditions in the coming decades, and we have the opportunity to take action in these regions with our potential to convene relevant stakeholders. There are challenges in providing solutions that are relevant to localised conditions, so we are using our nuanced understanding of these issues and are in a position to address them with appropriate strategies through the network we have. Ensuring we bring smallholder and large farm contexts into our approach is important.

We should be able to get there, but it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration, pulling in the technology and the knowledge we have at the large farms and finding ways of making it available at smallholder level where so much of the world’s agriculture takes place.

Lena Staafgard, COO

Better Cotton is in a position where we have the resources and network to collaborate towards change. Join our upcoming Member-Only Webinar to learn more about Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy on Climate Change.

Read the full Ecotextile News article, “Can cotton cool climate change?”

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