Climate change poses a real and growing threat for the world’s cotton farmers, many of whom cultivate their crops in countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate risks. Irregular rainfall, in particular, creates a steep challenge, with farmers under pressure to use less water to grow a traditionally water-intensive crop. Beyond water, cotton production often puts unnecessary stress on the environment through pesticide use, soil depletion and disruption to local habitats. BCI is moving to encourage farmers to adapt to the effects of climate change, build resilience and reduce their own carbon footprint. Our enhanced Better Cotton Standard System (BCSS) will be central to helping farmers navigate extreme and evolving weather patterns.
Through the BCSS production principles, we help farmers to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices, focusing on protecting crops with fewer pesticides, optimising water use, managing soil health and encouraging biodiversity to flourish. Our IPs draw on these principles to help farmers respond to the sustainability challenges they see on the ground.
In Australia, water scarcity is the biggest challenge for cotton farmers, as cotton is only produced when water is available. Over the last few decades, Australian farmers have made significant progress irrigating their crops with limited water supplies, thanks to advances and uptake in irrigation technology, cutting edge scientific research, and continuous improvement programmes such as myBMP, run by our Australian partner, Cotton Australia. The Australian cotton industry has achieved a 40% increase in water productivity over the last decade.
myBMP is the underlying platform accelerating farmers’ uptake of more sustainable practices in Australia. The programme is aligned to the BCSS production principles, allowing myBMP-certified farmers to sell their cotton globally as Better Cotton. Through the platform, farmers can compare practices, access expert advice on driving improvements, and measure progress. According to Rick Kowitz, Cotton Australia’s myBMP Manager, the opportunity to access Better Cotton markets has provided an additional incentive for cotton farmers to get involved, increasing grower participation in myBMP by 50% since 2014. Overall, Australian cotton farmers traded 50,035 metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint in 2016, up from 16,787 metric tonnes in 2015, and the volumes are only forecast to grow.
“The wider community benefits too, as more farmers join the movement,” he explains. “Farmers and regional communities are making the most of more efficient and profitable farming systems, a healthier natural environment, and safer, more rewarding work opportunities,” he says.
Now, 20 years on from the launch of myBMP, Cotton Australia is gearing up to share the world-class knowledge and skills gained by Australian cotton farmers with Better Cotton projects in other countries, particularly those operating at the frontline of climate change. In 2017, the Cotton Australia team will support BCI’s IPs in Pakistan in delivering training on progressive environmental practices to the country’s farmers. The move has been made possible through a $500,000 grant from the Australian Government’s Department of Foregin Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which will be matched by the BCI Growth and Innovation Fund. Together, Cotton Australia, DFAT and BCI aim to reach 50,000 new farmers in 2017, enabling a total of 200,000 farmers in Pakistan to grow and sell Better Cotton.
“We see Pakistan’s cotton farmers not as competitors, but as part of the global cotton industry to which we all belong,” says Cotton Australia’s CEO, Adam Kay. “It’s vital that we work together to address cotton’s sustainability challenges. We can help by sharing our knowledge and expertise with our fellow farmers through BCI.”
Focusing on Pakistani farmers’ most pressing challenges, BCI and Cotton Australia will develop practical training tools and share the latest management practices to help Pakistan’s cotton farmers adopt progressive farming techniques and improve their yields. Cotton Australia will tailor its recommendations to Pakistan’s farming system, drawing on Australian farmers’ in-depth experience to help participants build their knowledge and understanding of best practice techniques.
Cotton Australia is exploring the best way to reach farmers with vital information, such as research and development findings, and practical tips and advice on more sustainable production methods. The team is also considering how to facilitate knowledge exchanges between farmers and researchers. Importantly, both Cotton Australia and BCI will gain valuable knowledge about how to share knowledge effectively with cotton farmers in developing countries.
“We see cross-country collaboration as an important tool to help farmers address global climate change risks,” says Corin Wood-Jones, BCI’s Senior Programme Manager – Global Supply. “It’s a vital part of our broader intervention strategy to strengthen the global industry and mainstream Better Cotton.”