India / Ireland – Primark has announced a six year extension of the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme, a partnership designed to support women from traditionally male-dominated farming communities in Gujarat, India, to introduce sustainable farming methods, improve cotton yields and increase their incomes. Set up with agricultural experts, CottonConnect, and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the three year pilot trained 1,251 women smallholders resulting in an average profit increase of 211%1, which many used to improve household welfare and to invest in education for their children. Over the next six years, an additional 10,000 female farmers will be taken through the programme, with the first seeds being sown by new trainees in April 2016.
The Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme marks the first time SEWA has been approached to collaborate with a western brand and a specialist agricultural organisation to bring about lasting, sustainable change. Over the last five years, a number of global academic studies have revealed that agricultural programmes which effectively involve women can significantly increase cotton production and trigger transformative societal benefits.
The United Nations estimates that closing the gender gap in agriculture globally would generate significant gains for the agriculture sector and for society. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 per cent2. A further study by the Global Development Institute in 2013 found that with higher incomes, women are more likely than men to support household welfare and children’s education3.
Established three years ago, and supported by Primark’s Ethical Trading and Environmental Sustainability teams in India, SEWA experts saw significant results. By year two, female farmers engaged in the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme recorded:
- An average profit increase of 211%
- An average yield increase of 12.6%
- A reduction of input costs by 5%
- A 13.5% reduction of fertiliser usage and a 53.5% reduction of pesticide usage, indicating that environmentally sustainable farming methods are being adopted
- A water usage decrease by 12.9%, indicating that water efficiency practices are being adopted
Leveraging SEWA’s existing relationships with local farming communities was critical to the success of the programme from the start. Meetings organised in local villages helped female farmers to secure the support of their husbands and male family members – many of whom are initially sceptical – to ensure they were comfortable and confident in their decision to commence training.
Alison Ward, CottonConnect’s CEO, said: “Achieving gender equality and empowering women is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but no one government, NGO, charity, business or brand can effect positive change alone. Working with the Primark team and the Self Employed Women’s Association, we’ve been able to develop a unique programme that tackles some of the challenges faced in achieving gender equality in farming communities.
“We find that women do not attend mixed training sessions4 when they’re delivered, so the knowledge that this Programme has brought them will go a long way to building a better life for them and their families in the future. It’s also great to see how proud their husbands are of their work.”
Paul Lister, responsible for Primark’s Ethical Trading Team, said: “Primark has been working hard for the last decade to ensure that the rights of workers within our global supply chain are respected, and the lives of people working within the garment industry in emerging markets change as industrialisation brings new jobs and opportunities.
“The Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme started with a desire to develop a project that would improve sustainable cotton production and make a meaningful difference for cotton farmers. We believe that partnership holds the key to delivering change in developing countries such as India, which is why we approached Self Employed Women’s Association and introduced them to sustainable agricultural experts, CottonConnect. The results have exceeded all our expectations and I’m delighted that we’ll have the opportunity to reach a further 10,000 female farmers over the next six years.”
Reema Nanavaty, Leader of the Self Employed Women’s Association, said: “Giving women access to full employment is one of the best ways to drive societal and economic change. That’s why we work with communities across India to do exactly that.
“By partnering with Primark and CottonConnect we’ve been able to see what’s possible. We’ve seen women invest their increased income back into their families – whether that’s sending their children to school, improving their living conditions or buying and cooking more nutritious food. Through this programme we’re been able to make a material difference to people’s lives and we’re looking forward to reaching even more women over the next six years.”
1Data from field books collected by CottonConnect and SEWA and compared to a group of 50 control farmers who are representative of the general cotton industry in Gujarat.
2Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) ‘Men and Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gap 2011’.
3Professor Barrientos, Professor of Poverty and Social Justice at the Global Development Institute, Capturing the Gains, February 2013.
4On average women only account for 7% of attendees in mixed training sessions.