Better Cotton Initiative
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a not-for-profit organisation stewarding the global standards for Better Cotton, and bringing together cotton’s complex supply chain, from the farmers to the retailers.
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, by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
The Better Cotton Standard System is a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production which covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Each of the elements – from the Production Principles and Criteria to the monitoring mechanisms which show Results and Impact – work together to support the Better Cotton Standard System, and the credibility of Better Cotton and BCI. The system is designed to ensure the exchange of good practices, and to encourage the scaling up of collective action to establish Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
Since 2005, the BCI has been working with organisations from across the cotton supply chain and interested stakeholders to facilitate a solution for the mainstream cotton sector. The BCI's philosophy is to develop a market for a new mainstream commodity: ‘Better Cotton’ and thereby transform the cotton commodity to bring long-term benefits for the environment, farmers and other people dependent on cotton for their livelihood.
The BCI has identified the following long-term objectives:
1. To demonstrate the inherent benefits of Better Cotton production, particularly the financial profitability for farmers
2. To reduce the impact of water and pesticide use on human and environmental health
3. To improve soil health and biodiversity
4. To promote Decent Work for farming communities and cotton farm workers
5 To facilitate global knowledge exchange on more sustainable cotton production
6. To increase the traceability along the cotton supply chain
What Better Cotton Initiative Does
Through an intense cooperation with a multi-stakeholder group of organisations, together Better Cotton Initiative defined what a better, more sustainable way of growing cotton would look like. Better Cotton Initiative calls this definiton “Better Cotton”.
Now, for the first time, members of the global cotton supply chain are collectively addressing the negative impacts of mainstream cotton production by supporting this globally recognised definition, generating market demand for Better Cotton, and sharing information and knowledge to enable continuous improvement on everybody’s part.
In 2010-11, Better Cotton farmers in four countries (Brazil, India, Mali and Pakistan) produced their first harvests of this product.
The training and support of farmers is managed by the Implementing Partners, who are BCI members and have experience and contact with farmers in a particular region. They, in turn, often work with additional local partners. In this way, Better Cotton Initiative use existing expertise and infrastructures.
The ongoing activities focus on getting increasing numbers of farmers (and producer organisations) to commit to growing Better Cotton, collecting and processing the vast amount of information that flows up from the producers, managing the monitoring and evaluaton process, ensuring adequate take-up through the supply chain, and promoting and facilitating the adoption of Better Cotton practices wherever cotton is grown.
In The Field
Better Cotton farmers keep records of their activities to support learning and continuous improvement. Producer Units have developed different record formats (“farmer field book”) to best respond to the needs and capacities of farmers. All farmer field books should include a section on BCI’s agronomic and economic result indicators.
At the end of the season, Producer Units compile data from all farmers. Learning Group averages are automatically calculated and all data is submitted to BCI. Results can be affected – sometimes dramatically – by external factors (rain, pest pressure, market price, etc) and can vary from one year to another. While real impact can only properly be measured over a longer period of time, BCI keeps records of all years, as the analysis of medium term trends can indicate change.
In order to make comparisons within a given year possible, Implementing Partners are asked to collect data from control farmers – farmers who are not part of BCI projects and who follow conventional practices. It’s important to note that while the data presented here illustrates encouraging trends, further studies are needed to assess the actual impact of Better Cotton.
Better Cotton has had two successful harvests in Brazil (2nd harvest still going on), India, Mali and Pakistan. Better Cotton is expected from China from the 2012-2013 harvest.
Interest in Better Cotton continues to be expressed by different organisations in Central Asia, Southern and Eastern Africa, Turkey and the USA.
BCI tries to balance the need for expansion with the ability to maintain credibility and service existing projects properly.