Minimising the impact of crop protection practices is central to producing Better Cotton and pesticides should be used as a last resort once all other methods have been exhausted, the organisation says.

It acknowledges that a certain level of pesticide is sometimes necessary and that some are worse than others.

“The best and most realistic course of action is reducing their use, eliminating the use of harmful synthetic pesticides and enabling farmers to gain access to sustainable alternatives,” the organisation said.

The target builds on its existing integrated pest management approach, together with extensive research and collaboration with partners, and will be strengthened by revisions to its P&C pesticide requirements. It’s one of the four remaining 2030 Better Cotton targets to be announced in 2023 (a climate change mitigation target was launched with the 2030 strategy in December 2021).

To create the new target, Better Cotton has been analysing field-level data in a bid to move beyond understanding volumes of pesticides used to gain a more in-depth insight into the toxicity of active ingredients and their concentration in products used by Better Cotton Farmers.

“This is far from straightforward. There are challenges in conducting detailed studies and collecting significant data to define an accurate baseline (the current situation) for farmers, particularly in relation to smallholders. We need to make sure we have identified exactly which active ingredients are in each pesticide product used and in what volume they are used, in every production country. Any recommendations we make must help smallholders to improve their yields and income. This is a delicate balance to maintain,” the organisation says.

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Better Cotton adds after working closely with country teams it has further reviewed and prioritised “the highly hazardous pesticides” (HHPs) for elimination in each production country, setting in motion more specific action plans. It has also collaborated with other cotton standards and organisations.

It adds that it is keeping an “open mind” and exploring a broad range of approaches around what the new target will look like.

“Ultimately, we’ll define the target with the greatest chance of making a positive impact. We want to make sure it’s sufficiently ambitious and yet achievable for farmers, with a focus on the adoption of progressive IPM practices and the reduction and elimination of highly synthetic pesticides.”

More detail on the planned target can be found here.