Laying the Foundation for Sustainable Cotton Production in India


Published Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

In India, the first harvest of Better Cotton took place during the 2010-11 cotton season. Global fabric and apparel manufacturer Arvind Ltd. partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to lead the implementation of the Better Cotton Standard, laying the foundation for more sustainable cotton production in the country.

Arvind’s journey to sustainable cotton production began a few years earlier in 2007, when the organisation developed an organic smallholder farming programme; at the same time, BCI was being established. Seeing the potential to take sustainably produced cotton mainstream, and change the sector for the better, Arvind joined the early discussions about the initiative. The manufacturer went on to become BCI’s first Implementing Partner in India – the first bales of Better Cotton were produced on a farm under Arvind’s management. Today, Arvind works with more than 25,000 BCI Farmers (9% are women) in three cotton-producing regions.

Once Arvind have identified cotton-producing communities that require support, they aim to work with as many farmers as they can. However, it is not always easy to convince farmers to break away from traditional practices. “Initially farmers have a mixed reaction to BCI”, says Pragnesh Shah, CEO, Cotton and Agri Business at Arvind. “They want to know how implementing the Better Cotton Standard will benefit them, and they want to know what the risks are. The farmers we work with do not have the finances to invest in better farming technologies and they cannot afford to take risks that may impact their yields. We need to clearly demonstrate the benefits of adopting new — cost-effective and sustainable — farming techniques to them”.

To do this, Arvind works closely with local agricultural universities and science centres to organise meetings where farmers can interact directly with subject experts. To clearly demonstrate the benefits of new practices, cotton demonstration plots are implemented in each village under the BCI Programme. “Seeing is believing for many farmers”, says Abhishek Bansal, Head of Sustainability at Arvind. “Once they see the potential to reduce their input costs, improve their yields and profits, as well as receive free training and advice, they are enthusiastic about BCI and open to adopting new practices”.

Environmental conditions such as water availability and soil health present particularly pressing challenges for many of the cotton farmers within Arvind’s BCI Programme areas. The farmers work in water stressed regions and depend on rainfall to irrigate their crops – if the summer monsoon fails this leads to water shortages. In collaboration with other NGOs, Arvind teaches farmers about water harvesting and drip irrigation methods, helping them to manage and use water in a more sustainable way.

Educating farmers on the impacts of hazardous chemicals on soil and on personal health is another key focus area. “Historically there has been a common overuse of chemicals in cotton farming in India”, says Pragnesh. “We teach farmers how to make and use natural bio-pesticides while also helping them to understand what fertilisers and pesticides should be used, given the condition of the land. We provide farmers with the knowledge to identify friendly and enemy insects – showing them how to use various types of traps to remove enemies without the use of pesticides. In the long-term we want to help farmers to improve soil fertility and reduce the need for chemicals”.

Pragnesh and Abhishek have discovered that attitudes towards cotton production are shifting. They have seen first-hand that the next generation of cotton farmers are looking for change. “Younger farmers are becoming more environmentally conscious, and they are keen to implement new techniques and technologies that will help to effectively raise yields”, says Pragnesh. A shift is also taking place beyond the cotton fields. “In the last two years we have seen increased demand for Better Cotton from retailers and brands, as many implement sustainable raw materials strategies”, says Abhishek. “We hope to have 400,000 hectares under Better Cotton cultivation in the next 4 to 5 years (up from 100,000 hectares today) in order to meet demand for more sustainably produced cotton”.

Arvind has been a supporter of BCI since day one and fostered more sustainable cotton production in India. The organisation continues to be a valued partner and is working with BCI to achieve our 2020 target of reaching and training 5 million cotton farmers on more sustainable agricultural practices.

Image: BCI Farmers in Maharashtra, India. © Arvind 2018.