BCI farmers learn how to address and tackle pertinent issues in cotton production

BCI farmers learn how to address and tackle pertinent issues in cotton production

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) says more than 2.3m cotton farmers received training on more sustainable farming practices in the 2018-19 cotton season, with participants achieving a reduction in water and pesticide use while increasing yields and profits.

Through training, tools and capacity building, BCI farmers learn how to address and tackle pertinent issues in cotton production, from water use to pest management to decent work.

Highlights from the new 'BCI Farmer Results 2018-2019' report cover the six countries where the Better Cotton Standard System was implemented during the season – China, India, Mali, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey – and include farmers in China using 10% less water, farmers in India achieving 11% higher yields, and farmers in Pakistan using 15% less synthetic fertiliser.

Social issues were also tackled. In Turkey, 73% of BCI farmers advanced awareness of child labour issues, while in Mali, 39% of farmers and farm workers trained on more sustainable farming practices were women.

In China in particular, Better Cotton production accounted for 15% of national production, with BCI farmers producing 896,000 tonnes of Better Cotton in the 2018-19 cotton season.

BCI farmers experienced 25% higher profits than comparison farmers, while using 18% less fertiliser and 14% less chemical pesticide.

However, some farmers experienced challenging growing conditions including heavy rains, which prompted re-sowing and led to lower yields. Issues also emerged in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) related to decent work and forced labour, which eventually culminated in BCI's decision to suspend its licensing operations in that region.

India, meanwhile, has the largest number of farmers participating in the BCI programme and growing Better Cotton. Some 684,274 BCI farmers produced 652,000 tonnes of Better Cotton in the 2018-19 cotton season, a considerable increase in both farmer numbers and cotton volumes, compared to the previous season. India's BCI farmers achieved 11% higher yields and 22% higher profits than comparison farmers.

Child labour, however, is still a challenge in India. Some 51% of BCI farmers demonstrated a basic or low level of awareness of child labour issues, and training on this topic remains a key focus for BCI going forward.

"Through the cotton season, our implementing partners worked with farming communities' schools to help understand why children were absent and supported local authorities in raising school enrolment and retention rates by promoting the value of children's education," the report notes. "For example, BCI's partner Welspun Foundation delivered child labour awareness activities for children aged between 8 and 14 years old, using videos, games and fun activities. More than 2,400 children from 21 villages took part in the sessions."

The BCI also faces cultural challenges in training more women in the cotton fields, with women farmers and workers representing just 20% of training participants in 2018-19. In India, many women are denied permission, by their husbands or families, to attend training sessions, or they can only attend in between domestic tasks.

"We continue to work with our Implementing Partners to build their capacity to provide high quality training to both men and women at times which are convenient for them," the BCI says.