A Diverse Approach Is Key to Assessing BCI’s Field-Level Results and Impact

Published Thursday, March 26th, 2020

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) works with on-the-ground partners to train millions of cotton farmers around the world, supporting them to implement more sustainable farming practices which protect and restore the environment, while also improving their livelihoods. To ensure our programmes are making a difference, we are committed to measuring sustainability improvements everywhere Better Cotton is grown and to evaluating the environmental, social and economic impact of the Better Cotton Standard System. 

 Measuring the numbers of farmers participating in projects and meeting the Better Cotton Standard, or the volumes of Better Cotton licensed, is important but it is not enough for us to know to what extent we as a multi-stakeholder-driven sustainability standard are contributing to cotton production becoming more sustainable. We need more.  

That is why BCI also seeks to measure the change cotton farmers achieve in a diverse set of contexts, from smallholders with limited access to machinery to the most technologically advanced farming operation. BCI’s data-driven Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Programme focuses on farm-level results, aiming to measure what matters most according to our Theory of Change: continuous improvement of environmental, social, and economic conditions in cotton cultivation. 

To do this, we use complementary research and evaluation methods and work with independent organisations and researchers to assess the field-level results and impacts of the BCI programmes. No single approach or methodology can meet all the needs for understanding the reach, efficiency, results, and ultimately impact, of a sustainability initiativeBCI’s diversity of approaches is necessary to effectively measure results and impact both at scale and in depth.  

Programme-wide monitoring  

BCI and BCI’s field-level partners collect information about BCI’s global reach  data includes the number of farmers reached and trained, the area under Better Cotton cultivation, and volumes of Better Cotton grown. The outcomes help to monitor BCI’s progress towards its organisational targets. 

 Sampled monitoring  

This involves the assessment of socioeconomic and environmental outcomes of BCI Farmers to create an annual snapshot. Quantitative data on agronomic (water, pesticide, fertiliser use) and economic (yield, profitability) results are collected from BCI Farmers each cotton season, and when available, data from non-BCI, or ‘Comparison Farmers’, is also collected. The outcomes determine to what extent BCI training and support is leading to improved farming practices. 


Research consists of impact evaluations and indepth studies to understand whether positive change is occurring at field level and to analyse the potential and real impact of BCI programmes on specific issues and in targeted geographies. Research could be carried out by third-party researchers, independent organisations, universities or BCI. 


BCI also partners with other sustainability standards and organisations to support alignment on common metrics, including measuring progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, especially focused on sustainable agricultural production. For example, in 2019, the Delta Project was developed together with BCI, the Global Coffee Platform, the International Cotton Advisory Committee and the International Coffee Association, in order to bridge the gap in measuring and reporting sustainability performance in two of the most important commodity sectors, cotton and coffee. 

Access new infographics that visualise BCI’s approach to assessing field-level results and impact.