Other Cotton Initiatives

“We are convinced that in 5 to 10 years from now, sustainable agricultural practices will provide more cost effective food products and other commodities than goods produced by conventional farming systems. We cannot afford anything else than becoming more sustainable in an environment with growing demand and shrinking resources.”

Tobias Bandel, Soil and More International, 2010


It takes knowledge, committment and well-organised farmer groups to grow cotton organically and to a scale which is viable for export. This doesn't happen over night.

There are now a number of organisations supporting farmers (and brands) move towards more environmentally sustainable and/or socially just cotton production and trade. Whilst organic and Fairtrade cotton are the two readily recognised labels in the marketplace, with proven credentials, other initiaitives are helping the industry in its transition towards cleaner production. By reducing the amount of inputs (including water, pesticides and fertilisters) and better understanding low input cotton production, conventional farmers can begin the transition to more environmentally responsible modes of production.

An introduction to Fairtrade

Fairtrade is a stand-alone initiaitve. However, a combination of Fairtrade and organic is becoming increasingly attractive to brands and retailers due to the confidence a dual label provides them, and their customers, in addressing both social and environmental issues.

Fairtrade offers producers a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows producers the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fairtrade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping. When a product carries the FAIRTRADE Mark it means the producers and traders have met Fairtrade standards. The standards are designed to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade.

Fairtrade certification for cotton covers the production of cottonseed. Cotton producers must meet certain social and environmental practices and criteria spelt out within the Fairtrade Standard, to qualify for certification.There are some criteria applied during the manufacturing phases for a product to qualify for the 'Fairtrade label' but essentially the Fairtrade benefits go to the farmers.

The way it works is that buyers (of the cotton) pay at least a Fairtrade Minimum Price (FMPT). This minimum price is based on research by Fairtrade International and involves stakeholder consultation to arrive at an agreed 'Cost of Sustainable Production'. The Cost of Sustainable Production will vary depending on the region or country of production. 

On top of stable prices, producer organizations are paid a Fairtrade Premium (FTP). The FTP (currently running at 4 US cents or EUR 0.05 / kg seed cotton in most regions) is for social and economic development projects. Farmers decide democratically, during their organization's general assembly, how the FTP will be spent according to their needs. Education, healthcare or business development are most often the investments of choice. 

Fairtrade cotton is produced in Brazil, Egypt, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Peru, Pakistan, Senegal.

Fairtrade cotton is sold mainly in France, Swizerland and the UK, expanding into the Nordic Countries and the Netherlands, and most recently into North America.

Note: Fairtrade Minimum Prices for seed cotton has recently been under review. For more information and an update on this process visit http://fairtrade.net/standards_in_progress.0.html or to find out about Fairtrade generally visit Fairtrade International.


Other Initiatives

There are a growing number of initiatives aimed at improving sustainability in conventional cotton production include the following:

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

The Better Cotton Inititive is a collaborative multi-stakeholder effort that aims to promote measurable improvements in the key environmental and social impacts of cotton farming. Countries currently involved are Brazil, India, Mali and Pakistan.

The Better Cotton Initiatives’ approach is to develop a market for Better Cotton as a mainstream commodity. The focus is on a step change improvement to conventional cotton to reduce environmental and social impacts and bring benefits to farmers, farm workers, communities and the environment.

The Better Cotton Initiative is structured around a set of Production Principles and Criteria, underpinned by the premise of compliance with national and other applicable laws. As the Better Cotton Initiative is regulated by a single organization the principles and criteria are uniform worldwide. Farmers who want to grow Better Cotton start the improvement process by prioritizing activity on the Minimum Production Criteria and develop a plan for ongoing improvement to meet all the Production Criteria. The criteria are focused around pesticide use, health and safety, water use, fibre quality, habitat protection, freedom of association, child labour, forced labour, and non-discrimination. The Better Cotton Initiative has adopted a position of being ‘technology neutral’ with respect to transgenic cotton. This means that BCI will neither encourage farmers to grow it, nor seek to restrict their access to it, provided it is legally available to them.

Working in partnership with implementing partners the Better Cotton Initiative also offers some Farmer Support as well as Farm Assessment to measure results. There is no price guarantee, premium or minimum price and no guarantee for demand, instead the Better Cotton Initiative aims to improve farm management practices and increase productivity. Whilst there is some third party assessment and monitoring, Better Cotton is not a certification scheme and products containing Better Cotton are not labelled as such.  

For more information on the Better Cotton Initiative visit http://www.bettercotton.org/

Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA)

Cotton Made in Africa was initiated by the Aid for Trade Foundation, a broad partnership of retailers, development agencies, non-governmental organisations and cotton companies working in Africa. The aim is to use the Cotton made in Africa label to enhance competitiveness of African cotton.

In addition to enhancing demand, Cotton Made in Africa aims to contribute to sustainable development by introducing defined environmental and social standards in cotton production. A sustainable production standard containing criteria covering relevant social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable cotton production has been developed. In this, verification criteria are divided into minimum criteria (exclusion criteria) and sustainability criteria to promote continuous improvement following a traffic light matrix. Verification is carried out at ginnery level by third party verifiers with random small holder checks.

Cotton made in Africa does not guarantee a higher price paid to producers, instead a licensing fee is collected from retailers. This income is used to finance small holder training programmes, supporting social projects in farming communities as well as paying dividends to participating small holders. 

For more information on Cotton made in Africa visit http://www.cotton-made-in-africa.com/en/