OUR AIM, MISSION AND STORY
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) aims to transform cotton production worldwide by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
BCI exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.
The BCI Story
Look down. What are you wearing? Chances are that one or more items of your clothing are made from cotton. Or maybe it’s your bed sheets, towels or the bank notes in your pocket. Nearly everyone on Earth uses or wears cotton products every day.
Cotton is a renewable natural resource, but the future of cotton production is vulnerable to environmental degradation, poor working conditions and unstable markets. In 2005, a group of visionary organisations came together to develop a practical solution that would secure the sustainable future of the industry. The result was Better Cotton.
BCI has since made significant progress. In the 2016-17 cotton season, Better Cotton was grown in 21 countries by 1.3 million licensed BCI Farmers and accounted for 14% of global cotton production. We are truly a joint effort – encompassing organisations all the way from farms to fashion and textile brands, and civil society organisations – driving the cotton sector towards sustainability. By 2020, our goal is to train 5 million farmers worldwide on more sustainable agricultural practices, and ensure that Better Cotton accounts for 30% of global cotton production.
In the 2016-17 season, cotton was produced to the Better Cotton Standard in Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Pakistan, South Africa, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Take a Tour around the Globe and Meet Three People at the Heart of More Sustainable Cotton Production
As demand for sustainable cotton continues to rise, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has made significant progress in making Better Cotton a mainstream commodity, with 1.3 million BCI Farmers growing 3.3 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton in 2017, in 21 countries. That is 14% of global cotton production. To reach 30% by 2020, we are collaborating with apparel and textile industry stakeholders worldwide. Importantly, we are supporting BCI Farmers across the spectrum – from smallholders, who farm the vast majority of the world’s cotton, to co-operatives and large, mechanised farms. In every country where we work, we help BCI Farmers to improve their livelihoods, while addressing the particular climatic, environmental and social challenges they face.
Conducting training for millions of BCI Farmers worldwide is a major undertaking and relies on the support of trusted, like-minded partners on the ground in each country where Better Cotton is grown. We call these partners our Implementing Partners (IPs), and we take an inclusive approach to the types of organisation with whom we partner. They can be NGOs, co-operatives or companies within the cotton supply chain, and are responsible for helping BCI Farmers acquire the social and environmental knowledge they need to cultivate Better Cotton, and encourage uptake of Better Cotton in the cotton supply chain.
Each IP supports a series of Producer Units (PUs), a grouping of BCI Farmers (from smallholder or medium sized farms) from the same community or region. Their leader, the PU Manager, helps multiple, smaller groups, known as Learning Groups, to master best practice techniques, in line with the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria, our global definition of Better Cotton. Each Learning Group, in turn, is supported by a Lead Farmer, who organises training sessions for his or her members, creates regular opportunities to discuss progress and challenges, and encourages best practice in recording their results.
Our more than 4,000 Field Facilitators, employed by our IPs, form the backbone of the implementation system across the world. Often with backgrounds in agronomy, Field Facilitators deliver on-the-ground training (frequently through practical demonstrations in the field) and raise awareness of social issues.
This robust, proven approach to training is progressively helping BCI Farmers to raise productivity and improve their profits, in a way that is better for people and better for the environment. Here, we explore three very different stories of inspiring people at all levels of the BCI training world. We meet a Lead Farmer in Mozambique who has measurably improved his yields and his family’s quality of life by adopting sustainable farming techniques. We hear the story of a pioneering female Field Facilitator in Pakistan, who has overcome cultural barriers to become a role model for girls and women in her community. And we speak to a young Chinese PU Manager, who has seized the opportunity to lead his family’s cotton co-operative and help 277 BCI Farmers cultivate Better Cotton.
We hope you enjoy their stories!
47-year-old Manuel manages his 2.5-hectare cotton smallholding in Niassa Province. And with eight children, the family depends on his ability to achieve a plentiful, healthy crop.
A BCI Farmer’s Journey to Raising Yields in Mozambique
In Mozambique, smallholder farmers participating in the BCI programme manage 90% of the land under cotton cultivation, with 86% of the country’s cotton farmers producing Better Cotton. BCI Farmers grow rain-fed cotton, largely by hand, with many growing their crops on plots inherited from their families. As the climate changes, irregular rainfall patterns are bringing significant challenges to farmers, with droughts leading in some cases to the complete loss of farmers’ crops. Widespread poverty and a lack of transport and trading infrastructure can present further barriers to addressing these issues, preventing farmers from accessing the tools, finance, inputs and equipment they need.
Our four IPs in Mozambique support BCI Farmers in adopting sustainable, affordable techniques to help raise productivity and mitigate the impacts of climate change. They also procure inputs such as seeds and pesticides on BCI Farmers’ behalf, further helping to reduce costs. From a social perspective, they raise awareness of the importance of Decent Work (a universal concept of fair, ethical work, defined by the International Labour Organization), focusing on important issues such as helping women in cotton-farming communities gain equal work and decision-making opportunities.
One BCI IP, Sociedale Algodoeira do Niassa – João Ferreira dos Santos (SAN JFS) has been supporting BCI Farmer Manuel Maussene since 2013. 47-year-old Manuel manages his 2.5-hectare cotton smallholding in Niassa Province. And with eight children, the family depends on his ability to achieve a plentiful, healthy crop. Since participating in the BCI programme, Manuel has taken significant steps to boost productivity on his farm, focusing on more efficient approaches to managing pests, maximising his use of rainwater, and improving soil health and fibre quality. In 2016, he achieved a record crop of 1,500kg of cotton per hectare, 50% higher than his 2015 crop, signifigantly higher than the average BCI Farmer in Mozambique.
Manuel’s attention to detail and precision in applying best practice techniques has led to him becoming a Lead Farmer. In this role, he has assisted in training sessions for 270 BCI Farmers from within his community, lending his own plot for best practice demonstrations, and communicates regularly with them to share knowledge and listen to their concerns. In 2017, he was involved in an IP-led, digital initiative to measure exactly how much land is being cultivated by BCI Farmers in Niassa Province. He received a tablet from SAN JFS to conduct measurements, with the IP superimposing satellite imagery over the recorded area. He also uses the tablet to show training videos to the BCI Farmers in his PU, sharing best practice techniques from Mozambique and other BCI production countries.
Managing the risks posed by pests such as bollworm and jassids (which attack the bolls and foliage respectively), presents an ongoing challenge for Manuel and his fellow BCI Farmers. Taking a more precise approach to pesticide application can help to keep pests under control while reducing costs and environmental impact. Instead of spraying every two weeks, Manuel has learnt to check whether the number of pests has surpassed a certain threshold before spraying. He also grows his plants more closely together, moving away from traditional practices, which allows him to apply pesticides more efficiently and cultivate more plants on the same land area, making better use of his plot.
As the climate changes and pests migrate to new locations, farmers must also remain vigilant to evolving pest threats. For example, the mealybug pest (a sap-sucking insect) ravaged many crops in 2016, for example, spreading quickly due to the warm, dry conditions. We worked with our IPs to provide Manuel and his fellow BCI Farmers with information from the Cotton Institute of Mozambique (IAM) on how to tackle the pest effectively.
Where possible, Manuel uses natural substances such as neem leaves to make botanical pesticides, resulting in further savings, as well as perished weeds from his farm to create a nourishing cover for the top soil. This has the double benefit of providing nutrients to the soil while helping to maximise moisture retention by reducing evaporation and ensuring more water is directed to the roots, essential in times of drought and irregular rainfall. Improving soil health is vital, with soil degradation a major issue for BCI Farmers in Mozambique and the majority of African countries. He further improves soil health by rotating his crops with maize, cassava and beans, giving the soil a chance to regenerate.
With shifting rainfall patterns continuing to pose a serious concern for cotton farmers in Mozambique, maximising use of rainwater is vital. When delayed rainfall obliges farmers to sow seeds a month or two later than usual (in December or January), this can create a less favourable timeframe for growing, with the days becoming shorter towards the summer months, depriving the crops of sufficient sunlight, just as they are entering the growth phase. To conserve as much rainwater as possible and prevent soil erosion, Manuel has built ‘contours’ (heaped piles of soil) along each row of cotton to act as barriers, helping to reduce water run-off and make the most of this precious resource.
Protecting fibre quality is another key priority. Manuel has learnt to begin picking when half of his plants are displaying their bolls of cotton, lowering the possibility of contamination from road dust. He immediately separates the harvested crop in two groups, graded A and B, before drying the cotton in sheltered, purpose-built driers, made from locally sourced tree branches and covered with grasses, further protecting the crop from dirt and dust. Finally, he maintains the quality of the cotton en route to market by storing it in cloth bags rather than plastic. All these techniques combine to allow him to conserve as much of his crop as possible.
By participating in BCI, Manuel has gained respect and standing in the community, and used his increased profits to benefit his family. He has been able to send his children to school and bought school books to assist their learning, and strengthened the construction of his house, replacing the wooden branches with bricks and the grass roof with water-proof zinc plates. He has also bought a motorbike, which allows him to reach customers more easily to sell his food crops, find inputs for these crops or buy groceries for the family.
Manuel’s BCI training on Decent Work is changing the way he and his family approach the division of tasks on the farm, too. His wife is now playing a greater role in the commercial side of their business, often going with Manuel to sell the family’s cotton at local markets.
In the future, Manuel plans to continue improving productivity on his farm, and may even expand his farm to cultivate more Better Cotton. He will also continue investing his profits in activities to support his family, including by purchasing goats to sell milk, cheese and meat in his community.
To read more on BCI’s work in Mozambique, please visit: http://bettercotton.org/Mozambique.
They promote the message that women should be able to fulfil their dreams, and explain that as a BCI Farmer, they can access the tools, knowledge and opportunities they need to succeed.
Female Field Facilitator Becomes a Role Model in Pakistani Cotton Community
In Pakistan, approximately 1.5 million smallholder farmers rely on cotton for a living. Cotton is the country’s most widely cultivated crop and an important raw material for its growing textiles industry, representing 8.5% of GDP.1 However, as cotton farmers contend with the effects of extreme weather and pest outbreaks damaging the crops, the future of Pakistan’s cotton production will depend on men and women playing an equal role in fighting climate change and promoting sustainable farming practices.
Female cotton farmers can set a powerful example in their communities, inspiring more women to take on greater responsibilities in their family businesses and inspiring girls to pursue leadership opportunities in their communities. In rural Pakistan, this means overcoming entrenched attitudes towards the roles of men and women in the home and in the field. In particular, women often have little opportunity to influence farming practices or business decisions, and female cotton workers are often restricted to low paid, manual tasks, with less job security than men.
Our six IPs in Pakistan are helping to empower women to take on greater responsibility in the fields, and even to become independent farmers. They hold educational events for female farmers, known as Rural Women’s Days, and run women’s Learning Groups among BCI PUs. Together, our IPs in Pakistan currently reach more than 117,500 female cotton workers and 140 female farmers in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. (Workers are defined as people who work on cotton farms but do not own the farm and are not the main decision makers.) In this way, they help women to overcome cultural, financial and practical challenges, and learn how to farm cotton more sustainably.
“BCI IPs bring women together so that female BCI Farmers can share their experiences,” says Afshan Sufyan, Senior Programme Officer, BCI Pakistan. “Through these events, they promote the message that women should be able to fulfil their dreams, and explain that as a BCI Farmer, they can access the tools, knowledge and opportunities they need to succeed.”
In the Vehari district of Punjab, our IP the Rural Education Economic and Education Development Society (REEDS) helped an ambitious, capable young woman called Almas Parveen to raise productivity on her own cotton smallholding and become a BCI Field Facilitator. 27-year-old Almas is one of four siblings, and has been running her family’s nine-hectare farm since 2009, in place of her elderly father. Instead of deferring the management to a third party male farmer, as is often the custom in Pakistan, Almas was determined to run the farm herself, cultivate healthy crops and produce the best possible yields to sustain her family.
Almas’ farm was too small to qualify for REEDS’ BCI programme, which initially focused on medium-sized farms, but she was still offered the opportunity to join its BCI training sessions and learn sustainable farming techniques. As her interest and competence grew, Almas discovered that she wanted to do more than boost her own yields. She wanted to spread the word, and enable other farmers – both men and women – to benefit from the techniques she was learning. With support from REEDS, Almas completed the training and qualified to become a Field Facilitator and began a paid position training local BCI Farmers in March 2017.
Almas’ transition to a position of responsibility in her community did not run smoothly. She experienced opposition from community members, who did not agree with a young woman working on her own and providing training to male farmers. The farmers too, were wary of Almas and questioned her right to train them. But Almas stood strong. Undeterred and supported by her family and REEDS, she continued to deliver BCI training. In time, the farmers’ perceptions changed as her technical knowledge and sound advice resulted into tangible benefits on their farms. Anger turned into appreciation. She had won the community’s respect.
Today, Almas trains 400 BCI Farmers, as well as supporting other cotton farmers outside of the BCI programme. In particular, she trains men and women in the same location, which is unique in her region.
In her field demonstration plots, Almas takes a hands-on approach to teaching. She helps BCI Farmers to minimise the use of conventional pesticides by taking a more precise, scientific approach to pesticide application, and making their own biological pesticides from the leaves of neem trees and herbs. She encourages them to identify and count particular types of pests before applying pesticides, and maximise the positive effect of beneficial insects (insects that naturally prey on certain insects that damage crops). BCI Farmers in her Learning Groups learn to conduct soil tests to identify which fertiliser to apply when, and in what quantities, and often use local compost and manure for organic fertiliser. In Vehari, BCI Farmers can’t rely on water from canals to irrigate their crops and usually they need to pump up ground water, which can be expensive. Almas encourages BCI Farmers to adopt more efficient irrigation techniques such as laser-levelling (the precision-levelling of fields, in order to distribute water more efficiently) and irrigating alternate furrows.
Almas raised yields and profits by 18% and 23% respectively on her own farm in 2017-18 (compared to 2016-17), and achieved a 35% reduction in pesticide use. With the additional profit, she has been able to support her family and pay for her brother’s wedding. Importantly, Almas also wants to make a difference in her community, acting as a role model for female farmers and encouraging more girls and women into cotton farming. She gives talks to girls in schools letting them know it could be a viable future for them, and in 2017, she worked with Pakistan’s education authorities to help establish a new primary school in her village.
Beyond her community, Almas continues to reach more people with her empowering messages, including through BCI Regional Members Meetings, where farmers and other cotton stakeholders gather to share their experiences. In June 2018, Almas will travel to Europe and share her inspiring story at the BCI Global Cotton Conference.
Afshan concludes: “At our global conference, Almas will be the voice of Pakistan, the voice of empowerment and gender quality.”
For more information on how we support BCI Farmers in Pakistan, please visit: http://bettercotton.org/Pakistan.
PRODUCER UNIT MANAGER
It’s an unconventional choice when many young people in China are moving to cities, but I believe agriculture is the foundation of all things in our country, and there are still many opportunities for young people in farming. I’m pleased to be helping farmers in Yuli County to grow their cotton more sustainably.
Chinese Co-op Helps More Than 275 Smallholder Farmers Raise Their Yields and Profits
In remote, rural Yuli County, in China’s Xinjiang region, the land is well suited to cotton farming, with 90% of the land dedicated to growing cotton. Generations of smallholder farmers have farmed cotton here for centuries amid widespread poverty, selling their yields to support their families. Three of BCI’s 13 Implementing Partners (IPs) in China support 7,123 BCI Farmers in the region. Increasingly, BCI is collaborating with diverse local partners – including cotton co-operatives, ginners, NGOs, social enterprises and local authorities – to raise awareness of the benefits of growing Better Cotton and to encourage more cotton farmers to participate in the BCI programme.
One such IP is the Zhong Wang Cotton Cooperative, established by the Zhong Wang family in 2015. It has also been a BCI IP since 2017 and manages one Producer Unit (PU) of 277 BCI Farmers, the entire membership of the co-op. In particular, the co-op seeks to attract more local cotton farmers to participate in BCI, and encourage more ginners to source more Better Cotton (ginning separates cotton fibre from the raw cotton bolls). The Zhong Wang family has also been running its own ginning factory, Zhong Wang Textile Company, for three generations. 28-year-old engineering graduate Zhang Biao is proud to be leading his family’s efforts to support BCI Farmers through the co-op and the family ginning factory.
“It’s an unconventional choice when many young people in China are moving to cities, but I believe agriculture is the foundation of all things in our country, and there are still many opportunities for young people [in farming]. I’m pleased to be helping farmers in Yuli County to grow their cotton more sustainably.”
As a PU Manager, Zhang Biao’s goal is to help the 277 farmers in his PU deliver high quality cotton to the supply chain, and so far, he has achieved considerable success. The Zhong Wang Cotton Co-operative has nearly doubled its membership in two years, and with each of its 277 BCI Farmer members representing a family of four or five people, the benefits of membership have a multiplier effect.
Through the co-op, BCI Farmers have access to resources such as drip irrigation equipment and information on obtaining funding and government subsidies. The co-op purchases high quality pesticides, fertilisers and seeds on their behalf, helping them to benefit from bulk discounts. It supports capacity-building at many levels: hosting training for Field Facilitators, offering larger knowledge exchange events for all members and providing advice on individual farms. As a co-op, Zhong Wong also buys its members’ cotton crop at the end of the season and sells it on to ginners. The family’s own ginning factory now sources approximately 70% Better Cotton.
“It’s my job to ensure that all our members learn best practice in respecting the BCI Principles and Criteria, while reinforcing the benefits of Better Cotton among our members, local cotton farming communities and through my daily interaction with other ginning factories [in the region],” says Zhang Biao.
With water scarcity becoming an increasing challenge in Yuli County — due to low rainfall, declining ground water levels and stricter government controls on ground water use — Zhang Biao is advising the BCI Farmers in his PU to optimise water use.
Using efficient drip irrigation techniques, BCI Farmers are delivering water to the roots more quickly and reducing evaporation, compared to flood irrigation.
In the same way, BCI Farmers take a precise approach to improving soil health, with the co-op recommending different fertilisers depending on the soil’s needs. To improve pest control and reduce pesticide costs, Zhang Biao encourages BCI Farmers to grow crops such as corn and sesame around the fields, in order to attract more beneficial insects onto their farm, which also helps to promote biodiversity.
As a result of the co-op’s support, BCI Farmers have raised their yield by 370 kg of seed cotton/hectare annually since 2015 — to 5,400kg/hectare in 2016-17 — and increased their profits by $471 USD since 2015. With the additional income, many of the BCI Farmers buy farming tools and agricultural equipment, and help further raise their yields and increase their profits. To help them further boost their yields, Zhang Biao is keen to explore how his members could share machinery, so that they can implement mechanised farming techniques and make further productivity gains.
Importantly, Zhang Biao is seeing increased interest in Better Cotton among ginners, as demand for more sustainable cotton grows further up the supply chain, and wants to continue helping to accelerate the uptake of Better Cotton.
“Overall, I am optimistic about the future of Better Cotton in China,” he concludes. “Demand [for Better Cotton] is growing, people here are more environmentally conscious, and the government is pushing for improved environmental performance. Young farmers in particular are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more precise, scientific farming approaches through BCI.”
For more information on how we support BCI Farmers in China, please visit bettercotton.org/China.
To further support cotton farmers around the world, we regularly explore ways to develop and enhance the Better Cotton Standard System – ensuring that it remains a relevant and effective framework for cotton producers around the globe. As we come closer to taking Better Cotton mainstream, reaching our 2020 goal, we are looking further ahead to define our strategy towards 2030 and beyond. We will continue to partner with like-minded organisations and focus on how the cultivation of Better Cotton can contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Global Harvest Report 2016-17
The BCI 2016-17 Global Harvest Report provides an overview of our engagement around the world and includes global and country-level figures demonstrating our reach. In the 2016-17 cotton season, Better Cotton was grown in 21 countries by 1.3 million licensed BCI Farmers and accounted for 14% of global cotton production. Through our partners, BCI trained an additional 300,000 cotton farmers in two additional countries. These farmers are well on their journey to becoming licensed BCI Farmers.
The international cotton season runs from August to July, and therefore, spans a calendar year. The 2017 BCI Annual Report primarily focuses on the 2016-17 season and includes final reach figures for this season.
3,262,000MT of Better Cotton
14%of world cotton
In both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, BCI’s Implementing and Strategic Partners trained 1.6 million cotton farmers on more sustainable agricultural practices. For the 2016-17 season, however, a lower percentage of Producer Units – groupings of BCI Farmers in the same community or region – were licensed to sell Better Cotton under the Better Cotton Standard System.
BCI’s Assurance Programme uses a combination of internal and external assessment to verify that producers remain compliant with all Minimum Requirements for licensing. Under the Assurance Programme in 2016-2017, licenses were denied or cancelled for a number of reasons, including non-compliance with Minimum Requirements on pesticide application and producers not submitting accurate farm-level results data. The most notable reductions in licenses came from India and Mali.
Consequently, the total number of licensed BCI Farmers decreased compared to the previous year; however, the vast majority of these farmers have continued participating in the BCI Programme, receiving training and support. They are eligible to apply for new licenses again the following year and will receive a mandatory external assessment before being re-licensed.
Despite fewer farmers earning licenses, the volume of Better Cotton increased globally. This is due to a number of high-yielding, large farm producers in countries like the USA joining the BCI Programme.
Area (ha) under Better Cotton Cultivation
Production (MT lint) Better Cotton
How Does a Farmer Become Licensed to Sell Better Cotton?
A cotton farmer makes an informed decision to participate in a BCI programme and commits to a process of continuous improvement.
Participating farmers join multiple training sessions and work towards achieving BCI’s Better Cotton Principles and Criteria.
During this time, participating farmers maintain a Farmer Field Book, in which they record farm inputs and outputs such as irrigation methods, pesticide use and yields. They also take part in BCI’s Assurance Programme.
Farmers who meet the core Better Cotton Principles and Criteria requirements earn a Better Cotton licence which enables them to sell their cotton as Better Cotton.
Farmers focus on continuously improving their production practices with dedicated support and training, and by collecting and analysing data.
51,746BCI Farmers CmiA Farmers - BCI benchmarked
401,000Area Under Better Cotton Cultivation (ha) CmiA Area Under Cultivation (ha) - BCI benchmarked
932,000MT of Better Cotton Lint produced CmiA MT of Lint Produced - BCI benchmarked
We entered into a partnership with Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), operated by the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) in order to allow the cotton verified as CmiA to also be sold as Better Cotton. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all participating in the programme.
We entered into a partnership with ABRAPA (Associação Brasileira dos Produtores de Algodão) to embark upon a benchmarking process to align ABR (Algodão Brasileiro Responsável / Responsible Brazilian Cotton) with the Better Cotton Production Principles and Criteria.
Better Cotton Standard System
The Evolution of the Better Cotton Standard System
The Better Cotton Standard System (BCSS) is a holistic approach to more sustainable cotton production covering all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Each of the following six components of the BCSS work together to support the credibility of Better Cotton and BCI.
- Principles and Criteria
- Capacity Building
- Assurance Programme
- Chain of Custody Guidelines
- Claims Framework
- Results and Impact
BCI is committed to reviewing and updating components of the BCSS to reflect global developments and best practices. In November 2017, after a two-year process, the BCI Council approved the first comprehensive revision of the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria. The review process provided a unique opportunity to integrate feedback from a diverse group of stakeholders, in order to ensure that the BCSS remains relevant and reflects current sustainability challenges in cotton production. In this section of the report, we share the key elements of the revised Principles and Criteria and highlight other important Standard developments that took place in 2017.
Principles and Criteria
The Better Cotton Principles and Criteria (P&C) provide a global definition of Better Cotton through seven key principles. Adhering to the P&C enables BCI Farmers to produce cotton in a way that is measurably better for people, the environment and farming communities.
We have made some significant changes to the Principles and Criteria:
- Crop protection: BCI has reinforced its approach to crop protection with increased restrictions on the use of hazardous pesticides. In addition, the approach to health and safety has evolved to include a stricter requirement on minimum personal protective equipment.
- Water Stewardship: BCI has broadened the scope of its water principle and aligned it with the concept of ‘water stewardship,’ a holistic water management approach that encourages collective action towards sustainable use of water at a local level.
- Biodiversity Management: The P&C now require the development of a biodiversity management plan that includes the identification and mapping of biodiversity resources. It also addresses the need to manage degraded areas and protect riparian areas.
- High Conservation Value Assessment (HCV): In rare cases when non-agricultural lands are converted to cotton cultivation, producers must now implement an HCV risk-based assessment (simplified and tailored for the BCI smallholder context). This will help to safeguard against any negative environmental or social impacts that may result from land conversion.
- Soil Management: A comprehensive soil management approach is now integrated into the P&C that includes identification of soil type and encourages better nutrient management through mandatory soil testing.
- Climate Change: The role of the P&C in supporting farmers to adapt to the effects of climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions has been highlighted and clarified.
- Gender Equality: The P&C now provide a sharper position on gender equality, better aligned with the International Labour Organization’s Decent Work agenda. Improved guidance on various topics such as child labour, sanitation facilities and equal payment have also been included.
- Fibre Contamination: There is a new requirement to further reduce foreign contamination through the phasing out of synthetic bags during hand-harvesting, storage and transportation.
- Recording Sales: A new requirement for farmers to maintain receipts of their Better Cotton sales has been added.
BCI Farmers will undertake training on the new requirements through a cascade training model delivered through the BCI capacity-building programme. Cascade training is a train-the-trainer model, whereby knowledge flows through a number of different parties - from the BCI Secretariat to BCI Country Teams, to Implemeting Partners to BCI Farmers.
In 2017, we enhanced our programme with a new Learning and Development Strategy.
Capacity building is an essential element of the BCSS, as it ensures credible implementation of the P&C. BCI does not train cotton farmers directly. Instead, we work closely with experienced partners in the countries where Better Cotton is grown. Our capacity building programme provides partners with the skills and knowledge required to train cotton farmers and help them make continuous improvements.
In 2017, we enhanced our programme with a new Learning and Development Strategy and roadmap for the creation of a BCI Training Academy, through which we are developing a qualification management system and bespoke training modules for trainers. Throughout the year, BCI Country Teams provided support to Implementing Partners (IPs) and conducted annual training and refresher training for existing and new IPs.
The second Annual BCI Implementing Partner Meeting and Symposium brought together IPs and Strategic Partners from around the world to share best practices and experiences in implementing the P&C. The focus for the 2017 Symposium was Integrated Pest Management, and themes included: control methods, cotton preparation, making use of beneficial insects, habitat management and improving farmer understanding and decision-making.
As we look ahead to 2018, our focus will be on increasing the reach and accessibility of IPs’ National Guidance Materials through the creation of a global online learning resource centre. Training IPs on the revised P&C will also be a primary focus in the year to come.
BCI’s Assurance Programme helps to ensure that all cotton farmers licensed to grow and sell Better Cotton are compliant with BCI’s Core Requirements, and that field-level components of the BCSS are implemented consistently around the world. Our assurance model includes self-assessment at Producer Unit (PU) level (a collection of smallholders or medium farms) or farm-level for Large Farms; Second-Party Credibility Checks by BCI and/or Partners; Third-Party Verification by independent verifiers; and for Large Farms in the US, a US Group Management model. This approach makes the programme cost neutral for small and medium farms, which helps to make BCI accessible for millions of smallholder cotton farmers worldwide. Additional risk-based assessments give specific attention to the highest and lowest performers.
In 2017, over 550 verification visits were conducted globally across BCI Producer Units and Large Farms. As a result, licences for 56 Producers were cancelled or denied due to non-compliance with BCI’s Core Requirements. When a licence is denied or cancelled, the Producer can reapply for a licence in the following season. They will receive a mandatory external assessment visit.
As part of our work to continuously strengthen the BCI Assurance Programme, we rolled out a new online reporting template for Second-Party Credibility Checks with the aim of further expanding this tool to cover IPs and Third-Party Verifiers in the future.
Chain of Custody
Beyond the farm, Better Cotton Chain of Custody (CoC) refers to the documentation or chronological trail showing the order of cotton ownership through the supply chain, all the way from ginners to retailers.
Between the farm and the gin, BCI requires a product segregation CoC model. This means that farmers and ginners must store, transport and process Better Cotton (seed cotton and lint cotton bales) separately from any conventional cotton. This ensures that all Better Cotton bales produced by participating gins are 100% Better Cotton and can be traced back to licensed BCI Farmers.
Beyond the gin level, BCI requires a Mass Balance CoC model to be implemented. Mass Balance is a volume-tracking system that records the volumes of Better Cotton entering and travelling along the supply chain (known as Better Cotton Claim Units). The information is captured through our digital Better Cotton Platform (BCP), formerly the Better Cotton Tracer, and is updated every time Better Cotton changes hands through new sales transactions. This enables a clear view of the journey of Better Cotton volumes through the supply chain, regardless of whether they are subsequently mixed with conventional cotton.
In 2017, we conducted annual gin monitoring and third-party supply chain audits to ensure participating ginners, suppliers, manufacturers and retailers were adhering to BCI’s Better Cotton Chain of Custody Guidelines. The gin monitoring was conducted by BCI’s Supply Chain Team and BCI’s Strategic Partners, while third-party supply chain audits were delivered by reputable international auditing companies.
Our chain of custody guidelines and auditing process underpin the credibility of Better Cotton claims made by BCI Retailer and Brand Members. To further strengthen the credibility of claims made by all stakeholders in the future, we will launch an extensive review of the Better Cotton Chain of Custody Guidelines and audit processes in 2018.
By using a system of Mass Balance, BCI is able to reach more farmers, meaning more sustainable practices are being implemented around the world.
Mass Balance could be compared to indirect purchases of renewable energy. If you purchase renewable energy credits, there is no direct connection from the power source to your home. Rather, the credits are proof that a certain amount of clean energy has been added to the existing power grid. Similarly, by committing to sourcing Better Cotton though a system of Mass Balance, BCI Retailer and Brand Members can be assured that they are supporting the flow of more sustainable cotton into the supply chain. Mass Balance encourages supply chain actors to buy and use more Better Cotton in a cost-efficient manner, as it does not require complexities that result in costly physical segregation along the supply chain.
By using a system of Mass Balance, BCI is able to reach more farmers, meaning more sustainable practices are being implemented around the world. Ultimately, BCI is focused on making cotton production better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. Knowing where the Better Cotton ends up does not benefit BCI Farmers.
The Claims Framework exists to ensure only credible and consistent claims are made.
The Claims Framework is the BCSS pillar outlining communications rules for BCI Members. The framework exists to ensure only credible and consistent claims are made. Members’ adherence to the Claims Framework protects the credibility of both BCI and the wider BCI community, while enabling powerful and informed communications. The framework is reviewed annually, allowing BCI to make incremental changes that reflect both our evolving brand identity and lessons learnt during the previous year.
In 2017, we made some changes regarding Members’ access to the On-Product Mark, particularly in relation to eligibility criteria. This will help to ensure that only the most committed Members are able to make On-Product Claims, both incentivising increased uptake of Better Cotton and avoiding the risk of Members over-claiming.
The new eligibility criteria include: the introduction of procurement thresholds (minimum volumes of Better Cotton sourcing declarations made to BCI that increase over time – ranging from 5% to 50%), a minimum of one year’s Membership, and a mandatory public-facing commitment accompanied by a specific, time-bound goal. Members must state the proportion of ‘more sustainable cotton’ they intend to source as a percentage of their total cotton footprint within a given timeframe.
Access to the On-Product Mark for BCI Supplier and Manufacturer Members was removed from the Claims Framework. These claims were creating confusion within the supply chain and creating substantial risk for BCI. Finally, we strengthened the procedure for managing Corrective Action Plans, a disciplinary and remediation process which is implemented when a Member is found to be making unapproved claims.
Results and Impact
Measuring and evaluating our systems and data enables us to continuously improve and to better support farmers.
BCI is committed to measuring sustainability improvements everywhere Better Cotton is produced, and to evaluating the environmental, social, and economic impact of the Better Cotton Standard System.
As a data-driven organisation, we committed to collecting and reporting on farm-level results from the very beginning. As engagement in more sustainable cotton production continues to grow, we need to innovate and evolve our systems and approaches to capture new data opportunities. In 2017 we invested in building, developing and evaluating our systems:
- We continued to develop our information management capabilities, powered by the Chainpoint platform. We are particularly pleased that as a result, producers in the Large Farm category are now able to report their results online.
- To enable Retailer and Brand Members to effectively communicate their Better Cotton sourcing achievements we conducted research into new farm-level results indicators and results reporting methodologies. We will continue to measure what matters – farm level sustainability improvements – whilst offering value to the market and maintaining the credibility and feasibility of the Better Cotton Standard System.
- BCI also participated in independent research efforts commissioned by the C&A Foundation – complementary environmental life cycle and socio-economic assessments in Madhya Pradesh, India; and ISEAL’s Demonstrating and Improving Poverty Impacts project (baseline report available on our website). We also commissioned a case study in Gujarat, India, to examine progress in phasing out a hazardous pesticide and the role of BCI’s Implementing Partners.
- In December, we brought together representatives of 11 leading Retailer and Brand Members and experts from multiple disciplines to discuss BCI’s mainstream approach to sustainability and how we collectively envision the evolution of BCI’s measurement and reporting. The first phase of the new approach will be rolled out in 2018.
- Measuring and evaluating our systems and data enables us to continuously improve and to better support farmers. Improved farming practices will lead to positive results and impacts for farmers, farm workers, and communities, as well as for the sector as a whole.
An Actionable Framework
BCI Farmers are on a journey towards more sustainable cotton production, and BCI provides them with an actionable framework to do so. Each element of the Better Cotton Standard System works together to ensure the exchange of good practices, encouraging the scaling up of collective action to establish Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.