• 160,000 cotton farmers are to be trained in more environmentally-friendly farming methods by the end of 2022.
  • Primark is extending the programme into China for the first time.
  • The expansion into China and increased farmer numbers will enable Primark to move closer to its goal of using 100% sustainably sourced cotton across its entire product range.
Primark is aiming for a five-fold increase in the number of farmers trained through its Sustainable Cotton Programme

Primark is aiming for a five-fold increase in the number of farmers trained through its Sustainable Cotton Programme

Value fashion chain Primark is preparing for a five-fold increase in the number of farmers enrolled in its Sustainable Cotton Programme by the end of 2022, including expanding the initiative to China for the first time.

The plans announced today (28 August) will see more than 160,000 independent cotton farmers educated on sustainable farming methods over the next three years across three of its key sourcing countries. As well as expansion into China, the scheme already runs in India and Pakistan. 

It will enable the retailer "to bring even more sustainable cotton, traced from farm to store, to high streets."

Cotton is the main natural fibre used to make many of Primark's products – from pyjamas, T-shirts and jeans, to babygrows, bedding and towels. It is often grown by farmers in rural communities where knowledge of environmentally-friendly farming methods is limited.

Since 2013, Primark has been working with agricultural experts CottonConnect and local partners to train female farmers in India to use less water and chemicals. It launched the Sustainable Cotton programme in Gujarat, India's biggest cotton and cottonseed producing state, around five years ago.

By starting at the very beginning of the supply chain, the cotton can be directly traced from cotton field through manufacture to delivery to Primark's stores. 

The retailer's first line of clothing made using 100% sustainable cotton was pyjamas, and it says more than 14m pairs of its pyjamas have since been sold, in addition to 3m pairs of jeans, and 6m duvet covers and towels. 

The expansion into China and increased farmer numbers here will enable Primark to move one step closer to its long-term goal of using 100% sustainably sourced cotton across its entire product range.

"What's particularly exciting for us is that we can be confident our cotton has been grown in an environmentally-friendly way because we've been able to track it all the way from farm to store" - Katharine Stewart

"As a leading international retailer, we know that many people rely on us for great quality cotton products at affordable prices. Cotton is one of our most important fibres and, like other retailers, we rely on farmers working in rural communities around the world," says Katharine Stewart, ethical trade and environmental sustainability director at Primark.

"Improving the long-term sustainability of how that cotton is grown has therefore been a key priority for some time. What's particularly exciting for us is that we can be confident our cotton has been grown in an environmentally-friendly way because we've been able to track it all the way from farm to store."

Working with CottonConnect and implementation partner Heping Cotton Farmers' Cooperative, the aim is to introduce more than 80,000 independent cotton farmers in China to the programme. 

Additional male and female farmers will also be enrolled onto Primark's existing programmes in India and Pakistan meaning that, by 2022, more than 160,000 farmers will be equipped with the knowledge and means to grow cotton using more natural farming methods.

"Not only are we materially changing the lives of farmers and their families in rural cotton communities, but by working closely with Primark and their supply chain partners we have been able to trace the cotton all the way from the farm into products – a challenging but important step towards increased supply chain transparency," adds Alison Ward, CEO at Cotton Connect.

Each farmer on the three-year programme is trained in the most appropriate farming techniques for their land, from seed selection, sowing, soil, water, pesticide and pest management, to picking, fibre quality, grading and storage of the harvested cotton. As well as minimising environmental impact, it helps improve livelihoods through increased income, achieved by increasing cotton yields as well as helping to save on input costs including water, chemical fertiliser and pesticide usage.

In Pakistan, those who have completed their first year of training are said to have seen a yield increase of 11.2% and a 12.9% reduction in input costs, resulting in an average profit increase of 26.8%. Many of the farmers have used their increased profits to invest in equipment for their farms, educate their children or improve their housing and lifestyle.

Click here to read a just-style interview with Katharine Stewart in which she discusses how Primark is working to engage more closely with its supply chain.