Transformers Foundation Report Looks at Cotton Myths and Misinformation

A new report published by Transformers Foundation investigates the use – and misuse – of data on the sustainability of the cotton sector, and aims to equip brands, journalists, NGOs, consumers, suppliers and others with the skills and understanding to use data accurately and transparently.

The report, Cotton: A Case Study in Misinformation debunks some of the commonly-shared ‘facts’ about cotton and textile production, such as the idea that cotton is an inherently ‘thirsty crop’, or the amount of water required to create a t-shirt. It also addresses commonly-cited claims about the use of pesticides in cotton farming. In both cases – water and pesticides – the report aims to provide current and accurate claims along with advice on how to use them without misleading audiences.

Damien Sanfilippo, Better Cotton’s Senior Director, Programmes contributed to the report and is quoted throughout:

“Everybody has an interest in data. And that’s good, because it means that everybody has an interest in sustainable development. But using data correctly is a skill. Right? And it needs to be done in a scientific manner.”

The authors end with a set of calls-to-action, including to:

  • Send in information and new data to the foundation
  • Make data about environmental impacts open-source and publicly available
  • Co-invest in filling in data gaps
  • Establish a global fashion fact-checker

Read the report here.

Transformers Foundation ‘represents the denim supply chain: from farmers and chemical suppliers to denim mills and jeans factories’.

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World Cotton Day – A Message from Better Cotton’s CEO

Alan McClay Headshot
Alan McClay, Better Cotton CEO

Today, on World Cotton Day, we are happy to be celebrating the farming communities around the world that provide us with this essential natural fibre.

The social and environmental challenges we came together to address in 2005, when Better Cotton was founded, are even more urgent today, and two of those challenges — climate change and gender equality — stand to be the key issues of our time. But there are also clear actions we can take to solve them. 

When we look at climate change, we see the scale of the task ahead. At Better Cotton, we are drawing up our own climate change strategy to help farmers deal with these painful effects. Importantly, the strategy will also address the cotton sector’s contribution to climate change, which The Carbon Trust estimates at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. The good news is that the technologies and practices to address these issues are already there — we only need to put them in place.

Cotton and climate change – an illustration from India

Photo Credit: BCI/Florian Lang Location: Surendranagar, Gujarat, India. 2018. Description: BCI Lead Farmer Vinodbhai Patel (48) in his field. While many farmers are burning the weed stubble, which is left on the field, Vinoodbhai is leaving the remaining stalks. The stalks will later get ploughed into the earth to increase the biomass in the soil.

At Better Cotton, we’ve witnessed the disruption that climate change brings first-hand. In Gujarat, India, Better Cotton Farmer Vinodbhai Patel struggled for years with low, irregular rainfall, poor soil quality and pest infestations on his cotton farm in the village of Haripar. But without access to knowledge, resources or capital, he, along with many other smallholder farmers in his region, relied partially on government subsidies for conventional fertilisers, as well as credit from local shopkeepers to buy traditional agro-chemical products. Over time, these products only degraded the soil further, making it harder to grow healthy plants.

Vinodbhai now uses exclusively biological fertilisers and pesticides to produce cotton on his six-hectare farm — and he is encouraging his peers to do the same. By managing insect-pests using ingredients sourced from nature — at no cost to him — and planting his cotton plants more densely, by 2018, he had reduced his pesticide costs by 80% compared to the 2015-2016 growing season, while increasing his overall production by over 100% and his profit by 200%.  

The potential for change becomes even greater when we factor women into the equation. There’s mounting evidence that shows the relationship between gender equality and climate change adaptation. In other words, we are seeing that when women’s voices are elevated, they make decisions that benefit everyone, including driving the adoption of more sustainable practices.

Gender Equality – an illustration from Pakistan

Photo Credit: BCI/Khaula Jamil. Location: Vehari District, Punjab, Pakistan, 2018. Description: Almas Parveen, BCI Farmer and Field Facilitator, delivering a BCI training session to BCI Farmers and Farm-workers in the same Learning Group (LG). Almas is discussing how to select the correct cotton seed.

Almas Parveen, a cotton farmer in the Vehari district of Punjab, Pakistan is familiar with these struggles. In her corner of rural Pakistan, entrenched gender roles mean women often have little opportunity to influence farming practices or business decisions, and female cotton workers are often restricted to low paid, manual tasks, with less job security than men.

Almas, however, was always determined to overcome these norms. Since 2009, she’s been running her family’s nine-hectare cotton farm herself. While that alone was remarkable, her motivation didn’t stop there. With support from our Implementing Partner in Pakistan, Almas became a Better Cotton Field Facilitator to enable other farmers — both men and women — to learn and benefit from sustainable farming techniques. At first, Almas’ faced opposition from members of her community, but in time, the farmers’ perceptions changed as her technical knowledge and sound advice resulted in tangible benefits on their farms. In 2018, Almas increased her yields by 18% and her profits by 23% compared to the previous year. She also achieved a 35% reduction in pesticide use. In the 2017-18 season, the average Better Cotton Farmer in Pakistan increased their yields by 15%, and reduced their pesticide use by 17%, in comparison to non-Better Cotton Farmers.

The issues of climate change and gender equality serve as powerful lenses with which to view the current state of the cotton sector. They show us that our vision of a sustainable world, where cotton farmers and workers know how to cope — with threats to the environment, low productivity and even limiting societal norms — is within reach. They also show us that a new generation of cotton farming communities will be able to make a decent living, have a strong voice in the supply chain and meet growing consumer demand for more sustainable cotton. 

The bottom line is that transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. So, on this World Cotton Day, as we all take this time to listen and learn from each other, reflecting on the importance and role of cotton around the world, I’d like to encourage us to band together and leverage our resources and networks.

Together, we can deepen our impact and catalyse systemic change. Together, we can make the transformation to a sustainable cotton sector — and world — a reality.

Alan McClay

CEO, Better Cotton

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Better Cotton and Regenerative Agriculture: Our Approach

By Chelsea Reinhardt, Director, Standards & Assurance

Regenerative agriculture seems to be on everyone’s radar these days. From new regenerative agriculture certifications to sourcing commitments from big brands, the concept is gaining traction.  

Chelsea Reinhardt

Many regenerative practices are already woven into the Better Cotton Standard System, and as the research and conversations around regenerative agriculture evolve, we are working to deepen our impact along with it. 

Below, we discuss regenerative agriculture as it relates to Better Cotton — from how we define it to our approach moving forward. 

What is Regenerative Agriculture? 

While there is currently no universally accepted definition of regenerative agriculture, it is generally related to practices that promote soil health and restore organic carbon in the soil. These practices may include reducing tilling (no-till or low-till), use of cover crops, complex crop rotation, rotating livestock with crops and avoiding or minimising the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides — practices that have the potential to turn agricultural soil into a net carbon sink.  

Regenerative Agriculture in the Better Cotton Standard  

We don’t currently use the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ in the Better Cotton Standard. However, what is considered regenerative agriculture today is aligned with many of the sustainable farming practices that form the basis of our Standard. Our on-the-ground Implementing Partners in 23 countries around the world support farmers to implement these practices, which can be found throughout the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria. 

Regenerative Agriculture in the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria

  • Principle 3 on Soil Health: Better Cotton Farmers are required to implement a multi-year soil management plan which covers enhancing soil structure, soil fertility and improving nutrient cycling, which includes processes such as breaking down of organic matter and soil respiration that facilitates uptake of soil nutrients like carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous. Farmers are encouraged and supported to identify practices that are most appropriate to their local context. These typically include cover cropping, crop rotation, mulching and other regenerative methods.  
  • Principle 4 on Biodiversity and Land Use: Better Cotton Farmers must adopt a biodiversity management plan which explicitly encourages crop rotation and the restoration of degraded areas. 
  • Other Better Cotton Principles: Due to the interconnected nature of sustainable farming practices, regenerative agriculture practices are embedded within other principles as well. For example, principle one on crop protection introduces an Integrated Pest Management Programme to help farmers reduce their pesticide use and principle two on water stewardship details soil moisture practices such as mulching and cover cropping. 

How We’re Diving Deeper into Regenerative Agriculture for Greater Impact 

While we recognise the value of regenerative agriculture practices and support the growing awareness of the role of farming in combatting climate change, we are cautious about making promises about soil carbon contributions while the science in this area is still evolving. For example, although no-till agriculture has been shown to improve carbon sequestration in the short term in many cases, in the long term, the outcomes are less certain. Some studies have shown that even periodic ploughing can reverse years of carbon benefits. Other research points to mixed impacts on soil organic carbon, depending on the content and depth of the soil layer. 

Regardless of the long-term carbon benefits of regenerative agriculture, we will continue to focus on supporting farmers to improve their soil health. This is crucial to enhance long-term soil fertility, reduce erosion and adapt to climate change. It also plays a key role in improving yields and livelihoods for farming communities. 

What’s Next

Climate-smart agriculture practices will play a more prominent role in the Better Cotton Standard after an upcoming revision of the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria. They will also feature strongly in our 2030 Strategy and connected climate change strategy, which will cover how Better Cotton Farmers and communities can become more resilient by mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, reducing carbon emissions and measuring their progress. 

An approach of continuous improvement is at the heart of both regenerative agriculture and our 2030 Strategy. To that end, we are currently in the process of finalising outcome targets and associated indicators to act as drivers of change for Better Cotton Farmers. The outcome target issue areas will likely include climate change mitigation and soil health. These targets will enable progress to be measured towards the Better Cotton mission and incentivise farmers to find new ways to enrich the environment in and around their farms.  

Stay tuned — we will be sharing more information on these targets and launching our 2030 Strategy at the end of the year.  

Learn more about how the Better Cotton Standard addresses soil health and climate change mitigation and adaptation

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Learn More About Better Cotton & Brazil in Our New Q&A

As one of the world’s largest producers, and consumers, of cotton fibre, Brazil is a key country for BCI to continue to improve the uptake and flow of Better Cotton across the supply chain. We have published this series of questions and answers below to provide clarity on a variety of aspects of BCI’s programme in Brazil.

[expand title=”How is Better Cotton licensed in Brazil?”]ABRAPA (Associa√ß√£o Brasileira dos Produtores de Algod√£o) – the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers – is our Strategic Partner in Brazil, and Better Cotton from Brazil is licensed under ABRAPA’s ABR Protocol. This protocol is successfully benchmarked against the Better Cotton Standard System.

Benchmarking is a formal process for comparing, calibrating and conferring one-way recognition of other credible cotton sustainability standard systems. This recognition enables farmers who comply with a successfully benchmarked standard system to market Better Cotton.[/expand]

[expand title=”Why is BCI, through ABRAPA, only working with large farms in Brazil?”]The vast majority of cotton farms in Brazil are medium and large farms, and the benchmarked ABR Protocol currently applies only to these farms. The average size of cotton cultivation on ABR-BCI farms in the 2019/2020 season was 3,498 hectares.

However, BCI and ABRAPA acknowledge the need to work with cotton growing smallholders in Brazil. In 2019, planning began for trainings of smallholders in Minas Gerais as part of a BCI licensing pilot. These were scheduled for March 2020 but were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once launched, ABRAPA is looking at replicating this pilot in the state of Bahia. ABRAPA’s state-based member associations already work with smallholders in the Catuti region of Minas Gerais, and the Guanambi region of Bahia.


[expand title=”What links can be drawn between issues present in soy, such as deforestation and land conversion, and cotton production in Brazil?”]It is not BCI’s role or responsibility to speak about issues related to soy or other crops in Brazil – our goal at BCI is to transform cotton production. However, we can speak about how the Better Cotton Standard System (BCSS)and by extension ABR-BCI licensed farmsaddresses sustainability issues in cotton farming that are often also cited in soy production, such as pesticide use, land use conversion and deforestation. See the questions and answers below for more details.[/expand]

[expand title=”Does the Better Cotton Standard System address land conversion and deforestation issues in Brazil?”]

Yes. We recognise the value of social and environmental elements in a landscape and that these values must not be lost in the process of producing cotton. We also recognise that land use change comes with increased risks to biodiversity and other resources used by local people. That’s why we require BCI farmers to complete a High Conservation Value (HCV) assessment to identify, maintain and monitor those values early on so that they are not damaged by expanding cotton operations. This is part of our HCV approach that works to ensure farmers are respecting the rights of local communities, indigenous people and the environment.

This approach is outlined in Better Cotton Principles & Criteria 4.2.1 and 4.2.2 that all BCI farmers around the world, including ABR–BCI licensed farmers, must follow.

Beyond our criteria, ABR certification requires compliance with Brazilian environmental legislation. This means that, according to Brazilian law, even growers who only plant a small area of cotton must preserve 20-80% of the property. The percentage preserved depends on the biome in which the farm is located. For example, if a property is located in the Amazon biome, it must preserve 80% of its area. Brazil is made up of six biomes with different characteristics: Amazon, Caatinga, Cerrado (savanna), Atlantic Forest, Pampa and Pantanal.

All external audits of ABR-BCI farms consider the legislation of the biome in which the farm is located, and, most importantly, the licensing process is for the farm as a whole and not just for the area under cotton cultivation. Through the ABR audit and licensing process, all farms are visited annually. It should also be noted that no ABR-BCI licensed cotton farm is located in the legally-defined Amazon region.


[expand title=”What is the status of pesticide use in Brazilian cotton production?”]

In a tropical climate with intense pest pressure (boll weevil and white fly, in particular),a key challenge for Brazilian farmers is how to address the phase-out of harmful pesticides, as they work to reduce their overall pesticide use. Through our Strategic Partner, ABRAPA, we are helping cotton farmers in Brazil do this and find alternative methods for dealing with pests.

This starts with ABRAPA’s ABR Protocol which must uphold BCI’s current Better Cotton Principles and Criteria, including our increasingly stringent approach to the phase out of “Highly Hazardous Pesticides’, introduced in 2018 as part of a formal BCI Standard revision.

The Better Cotton Principle on Crop Protection requires that any pesticides listed under Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions and the Montreal protocol are not used. It also requires producers to phase out the use of any pesticide active ingredients and formulations that are known or presumed to be extremely or highly hazardous (acute toxicity) and carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic as per World Health Organization (WHO) and Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) classification. ABRAPAis currently updating its standard to align with these recent BCI requirements and supporting farmers as they seek viable alternatives for crop protection.

ABRAPA has set up five biological control factories, operated in collaboration with its state partners, to produce pest control products that are alternatives to more toxic offerings. The factories produce methods of pest control like natural enemies and entomopathogens (biological control with entomopathogens can be defined as the use of fungi, viruses and bacteria). One factory is located in Minas Gerais, one is in Goi√°s and three are in Mato Grosso, the largest cotton-producing state.


[expand title=”How did the Better Cotton Fast Track Programme (BCFTP), or its successor, the Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund (GIF) contribute to the development and benchmarking of ABRAPA’s ABR Protocol?”]The development of the ABR standard was undertaken by ABRAPA without funding from BCI. Better Cotton Fast Track Programme (BCFTP) funding was used for a variety of activities, such as training materials, capacity building for ABRAPA and farmers on the Better Cotton Standard System (BCSS), worker training on decent work, and alignment of ABRAPA and BCI’s chain of custody system.[/expand]

[expand title=”Does BCI say Better Cotton from Brazil is “sustainable’, “better’ or “preferred’? Is Brazil “the largest producer of sustainable cotton’?”]

“Better Cotton’ means cotton that is better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. BCI Farmers that produce “Better Cotton’ adhere to the seven principles defined in the BCIPrinciples & Criteria, including minimising the harmful impact of crop protection practices, enhancing biodiversity, using land responsibly, promoting decent work and promoting water stewardship. Sustainability is also a journey that doesn’t end when a farm is licensed – that’s why BCI Farmers commit to participating in a continuous cycle of learning and improvement.

BCI is committed to only making claims that are credible and able to be substantiated, which is why we describe Better Cotton as ‘more sustainable’ than conventionally grown cotton rather than stating that it is categorically “sustainable’. We are intentional and consistent across our communications about using “more sustainable’ in the place of “sustainable’ because this is more accurate and better captures the ethos of our approach.

Describing Brazil as “the largest producer of sustainable cotton’ is not in line with our position. We do say, however, that Brazil is the largest producer of Better Cotton because this is true, and we are proud of our partnership.


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Better Cotton Celebrates World Cotton Day 2020


Cotton is used by nearly everyone across the world on a daily basis. Today, on World Cotton Day 2020, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate the cotton farming communitiesat the heart of the industry, and at the heart of the Better Cotton Initiative,who work tirelessly to bring us this incredible natural fibre.

Promoting and embedding sustainability within cotton farming is more essential than ever. The Better Cotton Initiative exists to improve farmer livelihoods through the adoption of more sustainable practices. This past year has been challenging, but every crisis carries an opportunity. I applaud all the cotton farming communities around the globe that have adapted and persevered, and on World Cotton Day, I would like to thank them for their invaluable contributions to the sector.” – Alan McClay, CEO, BCI.

Follow the link below to hear from BCI Farmers from around the globe as they share their stories and details on how they are embedding sustainability into their farming practices.

Meet the BCI Farmers

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World Water Week 2020: Tackling Water Shortages in Tajikistan

In World Water Week 2020, we are pleased to launch our latest Story from the Field which explores how one BCI Farmer’s commitment to trialling water-saving practices led him to install Tajikistan’s first tubular irrigation system, saving almost two million litres of water in just one cotton season.

Tackling Water Shortages in Tajikistan: One BCI Farmer’s Commitment to Trialling Innovative Water-Saving Practices

Surrounded by the dramatic mountains of northern Tajikistan, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Farmer Sharipov Habibullo is hard at work in his cotton fields, demonstrating the latest water-efficient farming techniques to his neighbouring BCI Farmers.

In Tajikistan, where temperatures commonly exceed 30 degrees celsius in summer, andmore than 90 percent of agricultural land is irrigated (rather than rainfed), water scarcity is a major concern for farmers and communities alike.

Farmers typically rely on the country’s old, inefficient water channels, canals and irrigation systems to water their fields and crops. As climate change brings more extreme heat to the region, it places additional pressure on already compromised water systems and supplies.

Water scarcity prevents our crops from developing healthily, affecting our yields and our ability to provide for our families,” says Sharipov as he addresses a group of neighbouring farmers who have gathered for a BCI training session. ”As the climate changes, the seasons are becoming more irregular. We no longer have the stability we need to ensure a good harvest, with just a small window to sow and harvest our crops.”

63-year-old Sharipov is better placed than most to tackle farming challenges, with a degree in agricultural economics, 30 years’ farming experience and his own ten-hectare farm where he has grown primarily cotton (along with onions, wheat and corn) since 2010.

Having witnessed first-hand the farming environment rapidly changing during his life, he knew he needed to take further action to secure the future of not only his cotton farm and his family’s livelihood, but also his neighbouring farms and farmers who share the same limited resources and face the same challenges.

Read the full story.




You can find all of BCI’s Stories from the Field here.

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