Globally, cotton farming has had a bad reputation. For its overuse of pesticides. For child labor. On all fronts, cotton has had a lot of cleaning up to do. As a cotton-growing country, the situation in India was no different - at ACF, we struggled to change the ingrained practices of farmers - who were damaging the environment and barely surviving, in the process.
But in 2009 the Better Cotton Initiative approached us to be an implementing partner. It was a win-win partnership! They brought a tried and tested way of growing sustainable, profitable cotton to the table, whilst ACF had the ability to mobilize thousands of farmers. Kickstarting in 2010 with just 2500 farmers, it took time to get farmers' buy-in. They were used to getting something in return, like seeds, for their participation. Here ACF only had the knowledge to offer.
Farmers faced similar challenges and worked in isolation, so we organized them into small learning groups before mobilizing them into Farmer Producer Companies (FPC).
Next was to address the overuse of chemicals. Due to a lack of technical knowledge, farmers were being fooled to buy more fertilizers and pesticides - affecting soil health, productivity and profits. The FPCs started their own 'Farmer Malls' and began guiding and supplying farmers with inputs at competitive prices, as a solution. We also helped them reduce contaminants and strengthen collective bargaining.
Slowly farmers started seeing results and today, BCI farmers earn 19% profit. Even better, in just 9 years, numbers have swelled from 2500 to 1.73 lac farmers, and ACF had a term on the BCI Global Council.