In 2018, BCI launched a project to revise the Better Cotton Assurance Programme – a key component of the Better Cotton Standard System that involves regular farm assessments to ensure that the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria are adhered to. The Assurance Programme is based on a series of complementary mechanisms: self-assessments, 2nd party checks, and 3rd party verification, and is the central mechanism for assessing whether farmers can be licensed to sell Better Cotton.
The revision was undertaken in line with BCI’s approach to continuous improvement. The revisions incorporate learnings to strengthen and ensure the continued effectiveness and integrity of BCI’s model. Following the two-year process, the revised Assurance Programme is now effective for the 2020-21 season.
Key Assurance Programme Changes
- Most new Producer Units* of smallholders or medium farms will now spend their first season focusing on farmer outreach and training, before being assessed for licensing in their second season. This ‘set-up phase’ will give new Producer Units more time to train and recruit field staff, engage with farmers and develop effective management systems. This will improve the quality of farmer training and management systems, and over time should lead to greater field-level impacts. It will also strengthen credibility by giving Producer Units more time to ensure they fully meet all required Core Indicators of the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria before being licensed.
- All Producer Units will now require a BCI or third-party verifier assessment (to confirm they comply with all Core Indicators of the Principles and Criteria) before a group of farmers can receive a licence to sell Better Cotton. Therefore, Producer Units will no longer be able to receive a licence based on a self-assessment or Implementing Partner checks only.
- BCI Implementing Partners will be expected to focus less effort on compliance, and instead deliver more meaningful support to farmers. Partners will be expected to assess all new Producer Units for readiness before licensing, and to carry out support visits on existing Producer Units to address any gaps in field staff competence, management systems, farmer awareness and practice adoption.
- All licenses to sell Better Cotton will be issued farmers for a standard three-year period, rather than variable license durations based on self-reporting against improvement indicators (indicators designed to incentivise and measure continuous improvement across all areas of sustainable production).
- Tracking progress against continuous improvement objectives has now been embedded into multiple assurance mechanisms, including self-assessment, licensing assessments, and Producer Unit support visits carried out by the Implementing Partner.
Together, these revisions will help strengthen BCI’s assurance model while reinforcing the focus on farmer capacity building and field-level improvements.
*Each BCI Implementing Partner supports a series of Producer Units, which is a group of BCI Farmers (from smallholder or medium sized farms) from the same community or region. Each Producer Unit is overseen by a Producer Unit Manager and has a team of Field Facilitators; who work directly with farmers to raise awareness and adoption of more sustainable practices, in line with the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria.