April 20, 2022

Finding a Balance Between Scale & Quality: Better Cotton

India is the largest cotton producer in the world, with 5. 8 million farmers making a living from the crop, along with millions of people who work in the sector.  But in the past the industry has had a bad name, labelled as one that ‘consumes too much and produces too little’ – too much water, too much pesticide, and low productivity per hectare. 

“But all that is changing,” says Jyoti Kapoor, Country Director of Better Cotton in India.  With the global demand for more sustainable cotton at an all-time high, Better Cotton is working with approximately  1 million farmers in India to tackle sustainability issues within the industry - and make it more profitable for farmers too. 

“We have a vision for a more sustainable world, where cotton farmers and their workers know how to cope – with climate change, threats to the environment and yes, even global pandemics.” She said.

But whilst there is a long way to go to blanket the mammoth industry, Better Cotton’s current strategy has a clear focus – the need to increase quality.  “In the past decade we were focusing on scale as well as quality, but today that growth is organic, and so we are now fully focused on quality.” Jyoti said.

With the value of cotton reliant on both the quality and efficiency of the yarn that can be produced from it, quality is a key consideration for all stakeholders, with Better Cotton working across the supply chain to address this issue. And farmers here have a key role to play – ensuring they harvest, manage and store seed cotton in a way that minimises trash, contamination and damage.  But of course, higher quality cotton leads to better prices, so in the end it is worth it.

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The small landholder cotton farmer in India, struggles under the weight of myriad challenges. “Unfortunately from the farmer perspective, the industry has grown more complex over the last decade.” Jyoti said.  “The need for traceability is now there, with buyers wanting to be able to track the amount of Better Cotton all along the supply chain.”

“Our role is to work with farmers and help them navigate these challenges better – after all our aim is to help cotton communities thrive, whilst protecting and restoring the environment at the same time.” She said.

And partners, like Ambuja Cement Foundation, play a crucial role in bringing that vision to life.  With ACF working with 17.36% (1.72lakh farmers) of Better Cotton’s total farmers in India

“Our 19 partners play a very important role as they are our support for scale, and are the ones providing opportunities to improve farmer practices.” Ms Kapoor said.

“The beauty of partners is that they have strong understanding of the local situation on ground. Our partners all come from different backgrounds, each bringing specialist skills and knowledge to the table, which is very important to us.”

“In fact, ACF is one of the partners working across all 5 Better Cotton Impact Target areas – climate change mitigation, soil health, pesticide use, smallholder livelihoods and women’s empowerment.”  Jyoti said.

If the 2019-20 Impact and Farmer Results Report are anything to go by, the future of Better Cotton, and indeed the cotton industry as a whole, bodes well.  With a 10% reduction in water usage, 23% fewer chemical pesticides, and 13% reduction in use of synthetic fertilizers, Better Cotton farmers are seeing 9% higher yields and 18% higher profits.

“ACF is one of our leading partners and they have been extremely instrumental in achieving the impact we have seen.  We are very proud of our relationship – it’s a wonderful partnership.” Jyoti said.

“Our whole team relies on partners such as ACF for their expertise and its in-depth knowledge in the field.  Working with Programme Partners such as ACF has increased farmer numbers quite substantially, and we are currently doing some hot spot analysis to identify key areas where we might need further support.” She said.

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Jyoti Kapoor, Country Director, Better Cotton in India

April 20, 2022

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