Marks & Spencer is embarking on the second phase of its Better Cotton project in India, which it said will help to improve the lives of 20,000 farmers in the country, while also producing cotton more sustainably.

The UK retailer today (22 August) said it will extend the programme, which it launched in 2009, from 6,000 farmers in the Andhra Pradesh region to some 20,000. It will deliver an extra 21,000 tonnes of Better Cotton fibre over the next three and a half years. 

M&S said that when the programme launched, it looked at how cotton could be grown in a better way and, working with the WWF, achieved significant reductions in water and pesticide use for the farmers.

Results from last year included 51% less water use, 81% less pesticide "active ingredient" use, and 53% less synthetic fertiliser use.

Cotton from the project will be used in a wide range of M&S products across men's wear, ladies' wear, children's wear and homeware ranges later this year.

"Phase two of Warangal is a significant investment for M&S and it brings with it a significant reduction in the impact cotton grown in Warangal has on the environment," said M&S cotton specialist Mark Sumner.

"It also helps to improve the health and safety of the farmers as well as making more money for them by improving how they manage their crop by reducing the costs of inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers."

"In addition to the work with farmers, phase two of the project will also look at the effect the project is having on the local water supply. This will give M&S and WWF an indication of whether or not the project is improving the availability of water for the local population and environment."