Cotton & Textiles

From clothing and bed linen, surgical dressings and banknotes, cotton plays an important role in our lives. It’s grown in over 80 countries, providing income for hundreds of millions of farmers. Most producers are smallholder farmers with plots of land of less than 2 hectares. With so many people depending on cotton to make a living, we’ve been working to make it more sustainable since 2000.
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28,171

farmers and workers that obtain services by strengthened service providers

10,244

farmers and workers trained to adopt good practices

14,552

hectares under sustainable management

Challenges

Barriers to training and land degradation

Conventional cotton production comes with significant sustainability challenges. In many countries, cotton farmers face barriers to transitioning to sustainable cultivation practices.

Most cotton producers are poor smallholder farmers. They face high production costs and low yields as they lack access to knowledge, technology and financing. This makes cotton cultivation only marginally profitable. Child and forced labor are still a reality in some countries. Field workers’ health and safety are often at risk because they apply pesticides without adequate protection.

In many countries, cotton is grown with rain water only. However, about half of the land used to cultivate it and 70% of the crop’s annual volume rely on irrigation. Water use can be significant if irrigation systems are inefficient, exacerbating local water stress.

Cotton is extremely sensitive to pest attacks, which can destroy entire harvests. It’s grown on about 2.8% of global arable land, but accounts for over 6% of all crop protection chemicals sold annually (by value). In some places, farmers still use hazardous pesticides without adequate protection. This has adverse health consequences and impacts the profitability of cotton farming and local ecosystems.

Shockingly, three quarters of sustainable cotton is still sold as conventional cotton. Farmer groups end up selling the majority of their more sustainable produce as conventional cotton due to lack of demand. If the failing brands took their responsibilities seriously, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Isabelle Roger, Global Cotton Programme Manager, Solidaridad Network

Solutions

Working along the whole supply chain

The global cotton supply chain is long, complex and involves thousands of people, including farmers, ginners, merchants, spinners, weavers, manufacturers and retailers. We believe the solution lies in working with the entire supply chain to bring about sustainable change throughout the sector.

We provide smallholder farmers with training in the application of sound farming practices such as intercropping, crop rotation, and reducing pesticide and water use. This supports them to produce better yields and make more efficient use of inputs. We also create market linkages with processors who are committed to sustainability, creating enabling environments for smallholders.

Educating businesses and consumers to increase the demand for sustainable cotton stimulates change all along the supply chain. We work with brands, retailers and wholesalers to connect their supply chain to our projects on the ground.

We collaborate with stakeholders across the supply chain to build accountability at all levels and boost commitment to sustainability efforts. We bring our civil society perspective to collective work to increase the sustainability of the entire sector.

With the organic cotton initiative in our state, practices such as making organic compost are emerging again and have proven to be very helpful as they are chemical-free and do not require any extra expenditure on inputs.

Roopraj Wamanro Milmile, cotton farmer, Yavatmal, India

Achievements

Increasing profits

Cotton producers in Brazil increased their profits by 18% despite poor rainfall patterns and lower farm gate values for cotton. Strengthening of local cooperative Coopercat led to an increase of about 10% in the number of smallholder producers supported through technical assistance, collective purchasing of inputs and collective sales of cotton lint. The processing volume of 630 tonnes of cotton lint was the same as in 2018.

Cotton and water

We established two organic cotton and water programmes in India’s Maharashtra state, aiming to reach 30,000 farmers. Cotton production accounts for 54% of pesticide use in Indian agriculture, causing immense ecological and human hazards. In Brazil, we continued to support smallholder cotton production in semi-arid conditions. Six of seven pilot farmers who switched to irrigated production recorded increased productivity of 155% on average, with peaks of +643% per hectare.

Stimulating demand

Solidaridad’s interventions led to improvements in both the supply of and demand for sustainable cotton. It contacted farmers, started pilots to test new ideas and identify opportunities, and increasingly involved brands and retailers.

In field projects in Brazil, South Africa and India, Solidaridad supported the adoption of good agricultural practices and helped farmers address issues ranging from water efficiency to gender inclusion. 

In Ethiopia, Solidaridad made the business case for producing sustainable and profitable cotton in a pilot project while ensuring market uptake by local textile factories. 

Solidaridad in China and North America concluded a three-year project that focussed on empowering women cotton farmers by promoting good agricultural practices, leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

From field to fashion

Solidaridad contributed to a sustainable cotton sector from field to fashion. By supporting Indian farmers in adopting good agricultural practices, exploring innovations with supply chain partners in Mozambique and monitoring company performance via the Cotton Ranking, Solidaridad worked on enhancing both the supply of and demand for sustainable cotton. The growing interest in cotton sustainability, reflected in national policies and corporate commitments, was an encouraging incentive to ramp up sustainability efforts in 2017.

Consolidation and expansion

In a challenging global context, Solidaridad’s cotton programme was consolidated in nine key production countries (China, India, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, Senegal, Mali and Ghana), while expanding to Ethiopia and South Africa. These last two countries offered new perspectives with the opportunity to connect to the growing textiles industry in Ethiopia, and domestic brands and retailers in South Africa.

An H&M partner

Solidaridad became one of H&M’s official strategic partners.

New partnerships

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) programme expanded to Kenya, Senegal, and Mozambique, while Solidaridad’s ProCotton programme reached 150,000 farmers. Solidaridad began a partnership with Tommy Hilfiger and won another BCI prize, this time for changing woman farmers’ lives in Mali through training in literacy, leadership and communication.

Growing impact

The BCI expanded to Mozambique and Solidaridad’s ProCotton programme expanded to Uganda and now totalled 28 projects. Four Chinese BCI projects became Better Cotton licensees.

Solidaridad’s Cotton Solution Network team for India won the ‘Proud to be an implementing partner’ award at the BCI’s General Assembly for the clarity, impact and originality of two best practice stories.

Learning and improving

The BCI launched in China, where it was the first initiative of its kind. Solidaridad’s ProCotton programme expanded to Tanzania and Zambia.

The Rabobank Foundation, co-funder of Solidaridad’s Cotton Solutions Network, visited India to learn about the challenges facing implementation of the Better Cotton System and Solidaridad’s approach to solving them.

BCI begins

The first Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) projects began.

Fair Trade banknotes

The Dutch National Bank, Solidaridad and the Max Havelaar Foundation launched the first euro banknotes made from Fair Trade cotton.

Normalizing sustainable fashion

Solidaridad launched Chetna organic in India and began MADE-BY, a non-profit organization with the mission of making sustainable fashion common practice.

Sustainable clothing line

Solidaridad founded the sustainable clothing brand Kuyichi to order to introduce organic cotton to the clothing industry.

Collaboration takes off

Oro Blanco, a collaboration between Solidaridad and farmers in Peru, started growing organic cotton and other crops. 

Where we work

Featured Programmes

Better mill initiative

The Better Mill Initiative is a pilot initiative funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs that aims to promote cleaner production practices to reduce the environmental impact of textile processing and to promote gender inclusivity and decent work, thereby improving labour conditions in selected factories. By addressing social and environmental challenges in line with international export standards, Solidaridad aims to work towards a more sustainable and inclusive textiles and apparel industry in Ethiopia that generates decent jobs and sustainable exports, thereby contributing to the government targets of Ethiopia on textiles.

Bottom Up!

Bottom UP! is a cotton and garment project, funded by the European Union that aims at creating and ensuring growth and production sustainability, transparency and inclusivity along the cotton value chain in Ethiopia. The project is working with approximately 19,200 workers and 2,000 farmers along the value chain.

Inclusive Empowerment

Globally, around 33 million hectares are planted with cotton, out of which 12 million hectares are in India. Cotton is a very important fibre crop for India as it provides the basic raw material to cotton textile industry. India has nine major cotton producing states and Solidaridad has been working on improving the cotton since 2004 by promoting the use of both organic cotton and BCI cotton projects initially in states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. It then gradually expanded its scope of work to other states as well.

Join us in making cotton truly sustainable