Better Cotton Initiative

2018 Annual Report

© WWF-UK Asim Hafeez | Workers unload raw cotton from a truck. Punjab, Pakistan.

© WWF-UK Asim Hafeez | Workers unload raw cotton from a truck. Punjab, Pakistan.

The Better Cotton Initiative exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, the environment it grows in and the sector's future.

Message from the CEO

BCI's Retailer and Brand Members passed an important milestone at the end of 2018, sourcing more than one million metric tonnes of Better Cotton. This historic level of uptake is an encouraging indicator of how well BCI is progressing toward our five 2020 targets.

Back in 2012, the BCI Council laid down a formidable challenge to all BCI Members, Partners, stakeholders and staff with the publication of five ambitious targets for 2020. It asked us to demonstrate that multiple stakeholders, working together, can shift a global system so that sustainability becomes the mainstream.

"In 2020, BCI will have come to the end of its current five-year plan. In the BCI 2018 Annual Report, we’d like to share the progress we’ve collectively made towards achieving these five targets."
  1. Better Cotton and its equivalents will represent 30% of global cotton production.
  2. BCI will reach and train five million cotton farmers on more sustainable practices.
  3. 10% of all cotton produced globally will be sourced as Better Cotton.
  4. Nine countries will take direct responsibility for funding and implementing the Better Cotton Standard.
  5. BCI will cover 100% of its core operational costs with earned income.

Now, we need to look ahead, beyond 2020. The BCI Council and Executive Group are putting together the next phase of the strategy and crafting a plan towards 2030, which will be unveiled in November 2019. We are organising a widespread consultation during the first half of 2019, and all BCI stakeholders will have opportunities to contribute.

One of the most exciting aspects of this wide-ranging exploration is the link-up with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs have been met with an unprecedented consensus of support globally, harnessing the drive and commitment of all stakeholders from both public and private sectors, and from civil society. As such, they provide both a common platform – with a common language – and a unified set of targets to shepherd all our multiple and diverse efforts in the same direction. We are proud to both respect and support this momentum. Mapping BCI activities to the SDGs reveals that the work of our partners, stakeholders and programmes contributes to ten goals directly.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day business of capacity-building and knowledge-sharing continues apace. Along with our on-the-ground partners, in 2018, we reached and provided access to training to 2.2 million cotton farmers in 21 countries. In the short term, we are strengthening our focus on gender equality, water stewardship and land use, and turning our attention to optimal ways of addressing biodiversity in BCI projects. Watch out for more news on these and on our perennial cotton sustainability topics throughout the year.

Target One:

By 2020, we aim for Better Cotton and its equivalents to represent 30% of global cotton production.

What Do We Want to Achieve

Every day, people across the world use or wear cotton. Producing this versatile, renewable crop supports the livelihoods of more than 250 million people. Yet the future of cotton is vulnerable to challenges including climate change, water scarcity and pest pressures. Today, less than 20% of cotton is grown in a way that actively protects people and the environment. BCI seeks to change this and is striving to transform cotton production from the ground up by helping cotton farmers adopt sustainable agricultural practices and produce Better Cotton – better for farmers, the environment and the sector’s future. To achieve meaningful impact, this means reaching large numbers of farmers rapidly and effectively, while working closely with BCI Members and Partners to make Better Cotton a practical reality for the cotton sector. We want Better Cotton to become a mainstream, sustainable commodity, representing 30% of global production (approximately 8.2 million tonnes) by 2020.

BCI Global Reach

Where Are We Now

Globally, production of Better Cotton increased by 50% compared to the 2016-17 cotton season. Production of Better Cotton increased in almost all BCI Programme countries – nearly or at least doubling in India, Pakistan, South Africa and the USA. In India, for example, Better Cotton production rose by more than 75% from 325,000 tonnes in the 2016-17 cotton season to 572,000 tonnes in the 2017-18 cotton season. In total, 2 million licensed BCI Farmers produced 5.1 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton (on 5.3 million hectares), which accounts for 19% of global cotton production.

“The exponential increase in Better Cotton production in India shows great progress. In the 2017-18 cotton season, India was the largest cotton producing country worldwide, with almost 9 million smallholder cotton farmers.”
Rajeev Baruah, Head of Smallholder Programmes, BCI

Volumes of Better Cotton Grown

Recognised Equivalent Standards

We continued to work with recognised equivalent standards in Australia (myBMP), Brazil (ABR) and multiple African countries (CmiA and SCS) to make progress towards our goal of mainstreaming Better Cotton by 2020. Farmers working with BCI’s recognised equivalent standards produced approximately 2.3 million tonnes of Better Cotton in the 2017-18 cotton season.

What do we mean by equivalent standards?

By comparing (or benchmarking) other sustainable cotton standards rigorously with the Better Cotton Standard, BCI has recognised three other standards as equivalent to our own. Farmers growing cotton in line with the following standards can sell their cotton as Better Cotton: myBMP in Australia (managed by Cotton Australia), ABR in Brazil (managed by ABRAPA) and CmiA or SCS in multiple African countries (managed by Aid by Trade Foundation). By collaborating to create an established, widespread understanding of good practice in growing more sustainable cotton, we and our successfully benchmarked partners are moving more effectively towards promoting sustainability in the cotton sector.

“BCI’s vision and goals to deliver sustainable cotton to the world resonate with Australian cotton growers. This is driving increased participation in the myBMP programme and the number of myBMP accredited farms.”
Brooke Summers, Supply Chain Consultant, Cotton Australia.

Hear how our partner and manager of the myBMP standard, Cotton Australia, is working with large farms to put the myBMP standard into practice and promote sustainability in cotton farming.

Scaling Up Supply

Providing training and support to smallholder cotton farmers is central to BCI’s mission. Today, 99% of licensed BCI Farmers are smallholders, farming on less than 20 hectares of land. However, to ensure ample supply of more sustainable cotton, BCI also engages large farms around the world, which have the capacity to produce large volumes of Better Cotton while making continuous improvements in their farming practices.

In the 2017-18 cotton season, 360 farms in the US produced more than 245,000 metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint – that’s 5% of all US cotton production. The growth in the number of US farms participating in the BCI Programme is in direct response to the increase in BCI Retailer and Brand Members, many of whom are setting ambitious Better Cotton sourcing targets.

Farmers producing Better Cotton in the US are also utilising advanced technologies to implement sustainable practices. Some farmers are installing drip irrigation, which can significantly reduce irrigation water needs, while others use GPS-guided, precision-application technology to apply fertilisers to match soil types and precise fertility requirements.

“I’ve encouraged farmers to participate in BCI as a way to set goals for ongoing improvements and to meet growing expectations from brands, retailers and their customers – not just about where their cotton comes from, but how it’s grown.”
Cheryl Luther, Manager, Black Oak Gin, USA

What Challenges Did We Overcome

Cotton producing countries face different challenges that vary according to multiple factors including geographical location, climate and environmental issues, political stability, legislation, education and poverty levels. With a strong understanding of local challenges, our on-the-ground partners — Implementing Partners — in each production country advise BCI Farmers on implementing the Better Cotton Standard’s Principles and Criteria in a locally relevant way that responds to their specific challenges.

For example, in Mali, one of the first countries to grow Better Cotton, production of Better Cotton began again in the 2017-18 cotton season, after a pause in the 2016-17 cotton season. Growing conditions had become increasingly harsh, with rural communities lacking the means to farm effectively, particularly in terms of managing pests. High illiteracy rates also meant that farmers struggled to keep accurate records, which are essential to achieving a BCI licence. BCI worked closely with our Implementing Partner, the Compagnie Malienne Pour le Développement du Textile (CMDT), to identify and develop affordable, sustainable solutions. For example, farmers now wait until they identify a certain level of insect pests per cotton plant before spraying pesticides. As a result, in 2017-18 cotton season, the 14 Producer Units (organised groups of small or medium farms) in Mali submitted results, and one gained a BCI licence. CDMT has continued to support the remaining Producer Units on record-keeping and pest management, with most Producer Units in line to achieve BCI licences in the 2018-19 cotton season.

In the 2017-18 cotton season, the BCI Programme ended in Senegal, with our Implementing Partner Sodefitex, a dedicated partner since 2014, withdrawing from our partnership as cotton volumes became too low to enable sufficient investment in the BCI Programme. The country’s cotton farmers had gradually moved away from growing cotton, turning their attention towards other crops such as rice, sorghum and peanuts. Although cotton production in Senegal continues to decline, Sodefitex and BCI will remain in close contact and seek future opportunities to renew the partnership, should cotton become the best crop choice for farmers’ livelihoods.

Volumes of Better Cotton Grown

What’s Next

With Better Cotton now accounting for 19% of global cotton production, we are approaching a tipping point, whereby it can be considered a major player in the global cotton market. As more BCI Retailer and Brand Members source Better Cotton, we will be able to reach and support more cotton farmers, building momentum on our ambition to transform the sector, reduce its environmental impact and strengthen farmers’ ability to improve their livelihoods. Ultimately, establishing more sustainable cotton as the norm will also strengthen the sector and help to achieve security of supply for the future.

Target Two:

By 2020, we aim to support 5 million cotton farmers to improve their livelihoods by adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

BCI Farmer Almas Parveen leading a BCI training session. Muzzarfargah, Pakistan

BCI Farmer Almas Parveen leading a BCI training session. Muzzarfargah, Pakistan

What Do We Want to Achieve

Transforming global cotton production starts with farmers. Supporting farmers sits at the core of BCI. By 2020, we aim to support 5 million cotton farmers in adopting more sustainable agricultural practices and improving their livelihoods. To do this, we focus on the diverse social, environmental and economic challenges faced by cotton farmers around the world, from drought in Australia to flooding in China and gender equality in Pakistan. Our comprehensive programme of training, practical demonstrations and knowledge-sharing helps farmers to raise their yields, reduce their impacts on the environment and improve working conditions. We address multiple environmental issues – from soil health and pesticide use to water stewardship – and raise awareness of the importance of Decent Work (defined by the International Labour Organization) as work that provides opportunities for people to work productively in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity), focusing in particular on promoting women’s empowerment and preventing child labour. The collective impact of all our efforts helps to strengthen local economies and promote sustainable development.

I am a Field Facilitator, responsible for training 400 cotton farmers in Muzaffargarh [Pakistan] on more sustainable agricultural techniques. After participating in the training sessions, BCI Farmers are adopting new agricultural techniques which enable them to use water and pesticides more efficiently. Now, in our area, the younger generation are showing interest in agriculture, using the new techniques and technology.”
Muhammad Akhter, BCI/WWF-Pakistan Field Facilitator, Pakistan.

Where Are We Now

In the 2017-18 cotton season, the number of farmers participating in the BCI Programme grew substantially. Through our 69 on-the-ground partners – Implementing Partners – we reached and trained more than 2 million farmers.

In the 2017-18 cotton season, 2.2 million cotton farmers participated in the BCI Programme, receiving training on more sustainable agricultural practices. Participation nearly or at least doubled in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkey and the USA.

The number of licensed BCI Farmers grew to 2 million, a 28% increase on the 2016-17 cotton season, with numbers of licensed farmers growing in almost all programme countries. For example, in Pakistan, licensed BCI Farmer numbers increased from 90,441 in the 2016-17 cotton season to 251,292 in the 2017-18 cotton season.

More than 99% of BCI Farmers are smallholders, farming on less than 20 hectares of land.

How We Reach Millions of Farmers

BCI works with Implementing Partners with local knowledge and expertise, and a strong understanding of farmers’ challenges. Partners can be civil society organisations, NGOs, private sector entities, government agencies or foundations. They help cotton producers to develop the skills and knowledge to meet and continuously improve their performance against the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria. BCI invests in strengthening our partners’ ability to deliver effective training, in order to provide the best possible support to farmers and help maximise positive change in the field. Together, we are steadily raising the quality of farmer training, helping to ensure consistency and quality across programme countries.

Licensed BCI Farmers