Key Study Highlights Early Impacts of BCI on Smallholder Cotton Farmers in India


Published Thursday, September 19th, 2019

BCI Farmers in southern India are adopting Better Cotton Principles at high rates, according to a key study that enables the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to improve our impact potential throughout the region and beyond. You can access BCI’s Management Response on the Results and Impacts page.

The three-year independent impact study, ‘Evaluation of the Early Impacts of the Better Cotton Initiative on Smallholder Cotton Producers in Kurnool District, India’, was conducted from 2015 to 2018. The research, funded by the Ford Foundation and commissioned by the ISEAL Alliance, monitored farmers’ participation in BCI activities, through a baseline assessment (2015), an interim monitoring exercise (2017), and a final evaluation (2018).

Despite challenges faced by the project’s smallholder farmers like widespread illiteracy of farmers, small average landholding size, unpredictable rainfall, and an under-regulated agrochemicals market among others, the report indicated early positive progress in organising farmers, raising awareness on a range of more sustainable practices, and increased uptake of some practices including improved crop protection.

“BCI project farmers showed increased knowledge and adoption of promoted farming practices over the three years and significantly higher increases of both knowledge and practice adoption compared to the control group,” said Kendra Park Pasztor, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at BCI.

In a step towards environmental progress, treatment farmers (farmers participating in trainings on the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria and being evaluated through the study) were found to be using less pesticides and in lower doses. In 2018, only 8% of treatment farmers reported using cocktails of pesticides – a sharp decline from the 51% of farmers who reported using cocktails of pesticides in 2015. This is also notable given that the proportion of control farmers using pesticide cocktails also reduced, but the change is much less pronounced – from 64% at baseline in 2015 to 49% in 2018.

The report also noted an increase in treatment farmers’ awareness levels of Better Cotton production practices such as preparation of bio pesticides, the use of neem oil as a natural, organic pesticide, and adoption of inter crop, border crop and refugia crop, which can protect cotton from specific pests.

However, the report also highlighted ongoing challenges which will help guide BCI’s approach going forward. Chief among these is farmers’ dependence on commission agents, known as dalals, who don’t always work in the farmers’ best interest.

Many farmers, particularly poorer farmers, were found to be indebted to dalals. In 2015, more than 95% of farmers sold their cotton to dalals from whom they had already borrowed money as a loan for cotton cultivation at high interest rates. Some farmers became further indebted when they needed to borrow money for a family wedding – or if the rains failed – and turned to the dalal. Dalals may choose to extend farmers credit but at interest rates varying from 3% to as much as 24%. Farmers could potentially organise and register as producer organisations to benefit from direct sales – thereby bypassing the dalals – but this development has yet to take place. BCI plans to collaborate with our partners and stakeholders in India to more aggressively address issues such as this and to support cotton farmers in becoming more resilient.

Farmers were also hampered by poor rains. Untimely, late or no rainfall badly affect cotton sowing and subsequently cotton yields. Although most farmers said they intend to continue in cotton production, they rely on the rains not being too variable. This highlights the importance of strengthened climate resilience programming.

Research methodology

Researchers from the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich developed a strong methodology that brought together quantitative and qualitative analyses to enable BCI not only to gauge the extent of the programme’s impact, but also look at how that impact has taken shape. A survey of 694 households with project and control farmers, secondary information about the project site, and BCI and Participatory Rural Development Initiatives Society (PRDIS) project data provided the quantitative information. This was contextualised through several qualitative information sources including focus group discussions, more than 100 interviews with actors in the area, including ginning factories, district-level agriculture department officials and village leaders, and interviews with a panel of 15 households who were followed over the three years.

The scientific, randomly selected control group provided a counterfactual, which helps determine whether a project has an impact, and more specifically, to quantify how large that impact is. It enables evaluators to attribute cause and effect between interventions and outcomes. The counterfactualmeasures what would have happened to beneficiaries in the absence of the intervention.

“This type of deep dive research… provides some of the most insightful learning about what works and what does not,” said Pasztor. “It comes at an opportune time for BCI to integrate this learning into its 2030 strategy, which is currently under development.”

The evaluation illustrates BCI’s commitment to learning from experience, enabling us to improve our impact potential throughout the region. BCI and expert on-the-ground partners currently provide training, capacity building and support to 2.2 million farmers in 21 countries. By 2020 BCI aims to reach five million farmers worldwide.

“Lessons can be drawn [from the evaluation] to help guide strategic direction for BCI in India and beyond,” said Alan McClay, BCI CEO. “We believe BCI’s long-term, holistic, and collaborative approach to achieving more sustainable cotton production offers so much potential,” McClay added. “Clearly, there is much more to do and many gaps to fill. But we are committed to the cause. We are going to take learnings from this and other similar research to build the narrative of scale which defines the scope and reach of BCI.”

You can access the full evaluation here.

Image credit: © BCI, Florian Lang | Farm worker Shardaben Hargovindbhai in Gujarat, India, 2018.