Solidaridad partners share cotton experiences in the realm of Gandhi

For the past five years, Solidaridad has executed several projects with Indian cotton farmers under the umbrella of the Farmer Support Program. Although regions, circumstances and partners varied significantly, these projects had at least one thing in common: they all implemented the six principles of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and supported farmers in producing Better Cotton. Since many of those projects are currently in their final phase, Solidaridad’s regional expertise center in India organized a two-day meeting in March with all stakeholders to share achievements so far, but also to learn from the challenges that were faced.

In the spirit of Gandhi

The meeting took place in Sevagram Ashram, literally meaning “Village of Service”. It is not a coincidence this place was chosen to exchange ideas between farmers, Solidaridad’s local partners, representatives from BCI, the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), brands and corporate foundations. Coming together in this basic village, which Gandhi himself once created for visitors to experience rural life, emphasized the equality of all participants and opened the doors to an open and honest discussion.

Connecting theory with practice

The outcomes of the meeting were valuable, generating new ideas on how to improve future projects. Our local partners compared the results they have achieved with the results from partners from other regions. The scientists from the CICR gave valuable insights in e.g. life cycle and water management. Farmers gave practical feedback, and brought theoretical ideas back to the field.

Linking the chains

Participants shared valuable insights about all supply chain levels, from the field up to the brands, especially during the session on the improvement of uptake of Better Cotton and making sure that it ends up as such at consumer level as well. It became clear that concrete next steps could only be defined by being aware of each other’s needs and limitations.

However, the most important outcome of the two days meeting was most likely the contact that was established between the different stakeholders and the reconfirmation of the added value that the input from all different stakeholders brings when setting up a project. You can only come to solutions that are feasible and truly sustainable for all by involving all players of the supply chain.

Key Learnings from cotton knowledge sharing workshop

  1. Active participation of different stakeholders: During the two-day workshop, there was an encouraging representation of all the important stakeholders including farmers, NGOs, the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Better Cotton Initiative and the corporate sector. Knowledge has been shared in a very open manner during both days. All of the organizations that implement field projects shared the achievements, challenges and ways forward in their respective project locations.
  2. Participation of CICR: Central Institute of Cotton Research is the most premiere nationalized institute of cotton research in India. Five of the well-recognized scientists participated in the event and shared their valuable inputs.
  3. Location: This place is related to National Father, Mahatma Gandhi, giving a taste of rural India. Coming together in this basic village contributed to the success of the meeting.
  4. World Café Exercise: All of the participants formed five groups and discussed supply chain matters, economics on field, economics off field and social and environmental aspects related to cotton farmers/farming in a dedicated manner. The exercise provided good and realistic points on all of the mentioned themes.

Main conclusions from participants

  • There is a need to engage the cotton supply chain in India for better marketing and uptake of Better Cotton.
  • There is a need to transfer knowledge from the scientific community to the farmers.
  • Sharing experiences with other projects helps to benchmark your work, get inspiration, e.g. on how to go on without funding.
  • Cotton farmers: Buy in bulk, sell in retail.
  • Cotton management should be synchronized to the life cycle of the plant.
  • Terminology should be revised; a reclassification of rain-fed and irrigated is needed.
  • More awareness of length of value chain – making cotton more sustainable doesn’t stop at production!

For more information:

Tatheer Zaidi, Programme Manager, Cotton & Textiles, Solidaridad – South & South East Asia