The Better Cotton Standard System is BCI’s holistic approach to sustainable cotton production which covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Farmers, farm workers, and their families — whose livelihoods depend on growing cotton — are the main beneficiaries of BCI Programmes on sustainable farming practices.

Specifically, one of BCI’s high level targets focuses on reaching and providing training to cotton farmers: By 2020, we aim to support 5 million cotton farmers to improve their livelihoods by adopting sustainable agricultural practices. To record how many farmersparticipate in BCI’s Programmes, ourapproach to date has been to register one farmer per farm who is responsible for the agricultural practices on that land. This is also the method BCI has used to report on the farmers reached against our target.

However, the one registered farmer per farm may not be the only person reached by the BCI Programme, and in order to more precisely identify other participants, in 2018 we created a globally standardised set of categories for farmers and workers active in cotton production.*Knowledge about the various people on cotton farms with a financial stake and say in decision making will help us improve the BCI Programme. Furthermore, more insight into the types of workers involved in various farm related tasks will also enable better risk analyses and programmatic interventions for impact. For example, this could be identifying that in a certain region of India, migrant workers from nearby states generally participate in harvest. There may then be elevated risks for child labour and other Decent Work challenges.

Who Participates in BCI Training Sessions?

Across the world, smallholder farmers who participate in BCI Programmes learn about sustainable agricultural practices and Decent Work principles in small groups of around 35 people. We refer to these groups as “BCI Learning Groups’.

The licensed BCI Farmer — in many cases, the man who is considered “head of household’ — attends these sessions, and when we calculate how many BCI Farmers we reached in any given season, we presently only count the “official’ BCI Farmer. For example, in the 2018-19 cotton season, 2.3 million farmers were registered as participating, and 2.1 million of those farmers achieved a license to grow and sell their cotton as “Better Cotton’.

But what about all the other household and community members who attend sessions and activities, learning about ways they can improve their livelihoods and protect the surrounding environment? Co-farmers, sharecroppers, spouses, seasonal farm workers, permanent workers, and other community members also frequent training sessions and activities. Together with our on-the-ground partners, BCI is reaching a broad range of people, not just “the farmer’.

For example, in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan, in addition to delivering training to licensed BCI Farmers, BCI’s Implementing Partners delivered training to more than 250,000 (male and female) farm workers in the 2018-19 cotton season. These individuals are not counted as licensed BCI Farmers, but they still receive support and training on sustainable farming practices.

In the past, beyond certain training statistics, such as the number of women who attend training sessions, BCI has not officially counted these other people who join BCI training sessions and activities. Going forward, to ensure we are sharing an accurate picture of what is happening on cotton farms across the world, and make visible larger segments of the community that are contributing to making cotton production more sustainable, we will start to share more information about the broad range of people we reach.

Looking Ahead

The concept of who the farmers reached by BCI are will be expanded in BCI’s next strategic phase to include farmers and co-farmers, sharecroppers, and certain types of workers.

  • Co-Farmers – Co-farmers share the farming duties and decision-making responsibilities. This term was initially created to account for some contexts (e.g. China) in which a couple farm together; due to gender norms a male farmer is more likely to be registered with BCI than the spouse, limiting visibility for female cotton farmers in the programmes. Further consultation on this issue identified that definition to be restrictive, however, as other family members (e.g. brothers, sisters, fathers, older sons) could qualify as co-farmers.
  • Business Partners and long-term employees – In large industrialised farm contexts (e.g. USA), multiple legal farming entities may be grouped into one farm under the same management and use the same workforce. Together they share the work and decision-making about which farming practices to use.
  • Sharecroppers – In some countries (e.g. Pakistan), a sharecropper is engaged full-time in cultivation and to varying extents shares financial stake in the crop and participates in decision making.

We are continuing to refine our understanding of the extraordinary diversity of farm labour settings to identify and grasp the needs of all farmers and farm workers that can be reached by BCI’s Programmes. By deepening our knowledge of the wide array of potential programme participants, BCI will be able to tailor field-level interventions and maximise our ability to contribute to more sustainable cotton production for communities and the planet.

*This is detailed in a document called ”Categorising Farmers & Workers in the Better Cotton Standard System”. You can find this information in the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria – Annex 4.

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