The programme has trained 1,251 women cotton smallholders

The programme has trained 1,251 women cotton smallholders

Value fashion chain Primark has extended its sustainable cotton programme for women in northern India for a further six years, with the aim of introducing sustainable farming methods to more females and increasing their incomes.

The extension follows a three-year pilot of the programme, set up with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in traditionally male-dominated farming communities in Gujarat. The programme trained 1,251 women smallholders, resulting in an average profit increase of 211%, which many used to improve household welfare and invest in education for their children.  

Over the next six years, an additional 10,000 female farmers will be taken through the programme, with the first seeds being sown by new trainees in April 2016.

"Primark has been working hard for the last decade to ensure that the rights of workers within our global supply chain are respected, and the lives of people working within the garment industry in emerging markets change as industrialisation brings new jobs and opportunities," said Paul Lister, responsible for Primark's ethical trading team.

"The Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme started with a desire to develop a project that would improve sustainable cotton production and make a meaningful difference for cotton farmers. The results have exceeded all our expectations."

Results from the pilot show that by year two, female farmers saw an average profit increase of 211%, an average yield increase of 12.6%, and a 5% reduction in input costs. The use of pesticides was also reduced, by 53.5%, and water usage by 12.9%.

Primark says its cotton programme marks the first time SEWA has been approached to collaborate with a western brand and a specialist agricultural organisation to bring about lasting, sustainable change.

According to the United Nations, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%. A further study by the Global Development Institute in 2013 found that with higher incomes, women are more likely than men to support household welfare and children's education.

"Giving women access to full employment is one of the best ways to drive societal and economic change," said Reema Nanavaty, leader of the Self Employed Women's Association. "That's why we work with communities across India to do exactly that.

"By partnering with Primark and CottonConnect we've been able to see what's possible. Through this programme we're been able to make a material difference to people's lives and we're looking forward to reaching even more women over the next six years."