In the 2016-2017 cotton season, 1.3m licensed BCI Farmers in 21 countries produced some 3.3m metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint

In the 2016-2017 cotton season, 1.3m licensed BCI Farmers in 21 countries produced some 3.3m metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) says Better Cotton now accounts for 14% of global cotton production – representing a 2% increase on 2016.

Launched last week at the BCI Global Cotton Conference in Brussels, the BCI 2017 annual report reveals the group is getting ever closer to its goal of Better Cotton accounting for 30% of global production by 2020.

As it moves closer to mainstreaming Better Cotton, the focus will move to developing its strategy beyond 2020 with plans to align its ambitions with the UN's 2030 sustainable development vision. 

BCI is a non-profit that promotes better standards in cotton farming and practices, with partner retailers including H&M, Gap and Levi Strauss. Its annual report celebrates the achievements of BCI farmers, partners, members and stakeholders from around the world.

In the 2016-2017 cotton season, 1.3m licensed BCI farmers in 21 countries produced some 3.3m metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint, enabling a record-level of more sustainably produced cotton to enter the global supply chain.

In both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, BCI's implementing and strategic partners trained 1.6m cotton farmers on more sustainable agricultural practices. For the 2016-17 season, however, a lower percentage of producer units – groupings of BCI farmers in the same community or region – were licensed to sell Better Cotton under the Better Cotton Standard System.

BCI's assurance programme uses a combination of internal and external assessment to verify that producers remain compliant with all minimum requirements for licensing. Under the assurance programme in 2016-2017, licenses were denied or cancelled for a number of reasons, including non-compliance with minimum requirements on pesticide application and producers not submitting accurate farm-level results data. The most notable reductions in licenses came from India and Mali.

As a result, the total number of licensed BCI farmers decreased compared to the previous year. However, the vast majority of these farmers have continued participating in the BCI programme, receiving training and support. They are eligible to apply for new licenses again the following year and will receive a mandatory external assessment before being re-licensed.

Despite fewer farmers earning licenses, the volume of Better Cotton increased globally. This is due to a number of high-yielding, large farm producers in countries like the USA joining the BCI programme.

Meanwhile, the group also completed the first comprehensive review of the Better Cotton Standard System during the year, paving the way to further support BCI farmers across the world in raising productivity in a sustainable way.

"The revised Principles and Criteria of the Standard, approved by the BCI Council in November 2017, were the culmination of a thorough and rigorous process, involving more than two years of stakeholder consultation," says CEO Alan McClay. "The result is an enhanced standard system that reflects the reality of social, economic and environmental challenges and best practices in cotton production today."

The group now begins a 12-month transition period as it prepares for the full roll-out.

BCI recently hit back at a report from campaign group Changing Markets Foundation which investigated whether voluntary certification schemes for textiles, seafood and palm oil are accurately guiding consumers towards sustainable products.

Analysing initiatives including the Ecolabel Index, the Higg Index, BCI, and the CanopyStyle initiative, 'The False Promise of Certification' report focuses on schemes that set out to address the environmental performance of the textile industry as a whole, and at key schemes covering two fibre types: cotton and viscose.