Protecting and Enhancing Biodiversity in Cotton Farming


Published Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Earth Day 2019 encourages us all to ‘Protect Our Species’ and reduce our impact on the planet. From using pesticides derived from ingredients found in nature, to undertaking biodiversity mapping, BCI Farmers are taking multiple approaches to protecting and enhancing the natural environment, while producing cotton in a sustainable way.

  • What biodiversity challenges do cotton farmers face?

In order to use land for any crop production, it’s possible that the land has been cleared beforehand – this applies to cotton production too. Clearing land deprives it of vegetation and disrupts natural habitats, which has a direct and significant impact on biodiversity. Reducing natural habitats diminishes or even eliminates the breeding, foraging or migratory routes of many species. In some parts of the world, there has also been an overreliance on chemical pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture. Inappropriate or improper use of pesticides can affect human health, contaminate water sources, food crops and the environment more broadly.

  • How does the Better Cotton Standard address biodiversity?

Two of the Better Cotton Principles focus on biodiversity and reducing the harmful impact of crop protection practices. In 2018, we increased our emphasis on environmental principles to strengthen our Standard. Our reinforced approach towards pesticide use and restriction includes phasing out highly hazardous pesticides and banning pesticides listed in the Rotterdam Convention (a treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals).

Additionally, in order to receive a BCI licence, cotton farmers must adopt a biodiversity management plan that conserves and enhances biodiversity on (and surrounding) their farm. This includes identifying and mapping biodiversity resources, identifying and restoring degraded areas, enhancing populations of beneficial insects, and protecting riparian areas (the area between land and a river or stream). Mapping helps BCI Farmers to better understand which animal, vegetal and microbial species are present on and around their farms.

  • What practices are BCI Farmers adopting to reduce the impact of cotton farming on the environment?

BCI supports farmers to adopt an integrated pest management strategy that enables them to manage pests naturally, reducing their reliance on chemical pesticides. This might include using crop rotation to break pest and disease cycles, creating homemade pesticides from ingredients found in nature, and encouraging bird and bat species that act as predators to cotton pests.

BCI Farmer Vinodbhai Patel joined BCI in 2016 after learning that Action for Food Production (AFPRO), one of our field-level partners in India, could help him accelerate his ambition to nourish his soil and manage pests using non-chemical solutions.

Just three years ago, the soil on my farm was so degraded. I could hardly find any earthworms in the soil. Now, I can see many more earthworms, which suggests my soil is recovering. My soil tests show that nutrient levels have increased,” says Vinodbhai.

To nurture the soil, Vinodbhai began making a natural liquid fertiliser using locally available ingredients. He mixes cow urine and dung, that he collects from nearby farms, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar) from the market, soil, hand-crushed Bengal gram (chickpea) flour and a little water.

  • How is BCI progressing biodiversity enhancement further?

BCI and the High Conservation Value Resource Network (HCVRN) have recently visited India to assess the applicability of a new biodiversity tool developed by BCI and HCVRN. The tool aims to guide BCI’s field-level partners to assist BCI Farmers in identifying and mapping biodiversity resources on and around their farms. It will also help them to develop the appropriate mitigation measures when threats are identified. BCI and HCVRN also launched water stewardship and land conservation pilot projects in the 2017-18 cotton season, helping farmers to move beyond national regulations in their efforts to conserve water, promote biodiversity and use land responsibly.