Republic of Ireland / United Kingdom – Primark has released new numbers revealing the impact of its Sustainable Cotton Program on women smallholders in India. The data shows that female farmers saw an average profit increase of 247% in the third year of the program. Many used this additional income to invest in farm and home improvements, healthcare and education for their children.
- Primark partnership with CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association announces third year program results
Set up in 2013, the Primark Sustainable Cotton Program is a partnership between Primark, agricultural experts CottonConnect, and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The program trains women smallholders in sustainable farming methods, so they can improve their livelihoods through increased income. In total, 1,251 farmers participated in the first three years of the program and in 2016 Primark announced that the program would be extended to reach a further 10,000 farmers over a six-year period.
In India, the world’s second largest producer of cotton, women play a crucial role in cotton cultivation. Despite figures from the International Trade Centre showing that women account for 70% of the cotton planting, and 90% of the hand-picking, the average income for women in rural India is just 78% of men’s. In addition, India currently ranks at 130 out of 188 countries in the UN’s Gender Inequality Index with gender equality one of the most pressing development challenges facing the country.
Results from the programme show that long-term investment in female cotton farmers can deliver significant results for the women, their families, and the local communities involved. In the third year of the programme, the female farmers recorded:
- An average profit increase of 247%
- A reduction of input costs by 19.2% (e.g. by reducing chemical pesticide and fertiliser usage, buying seeds collectively with other farmers, and a reduction in additional labour costs)
- A 40% reduction in the use of chemical fertiliser and a 44% reduction of chemical pesticide usage, indicating that environmentally sustainable farming methods are being adopted
- A 10% water usage decrease, revealing sustainable water efficiency practices in action
Alison Ward, CottonConnect’s CEO, said: “Creating sustainable, long-lasting change in cotton-growing communities in India can be challenging. It is something that no one organisation can achieve alone. By partnering with Primark and the Self-Employed Women’s Association, we’ve been able to achieve significant results for the program farmers, their families and the broader community.
“Key to its success was gaining the support of male elders and family members. In doing so, we’ve seen a real cultural shift – women’s voices are now heard and respected, and they are part of the decision-making process with their families and communities. We’ve seen what’s possible with a small group of just over 1,000 farmers, but it’s clear that this approach holds great potential. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact of the program on our next intake of female smallholders.”
Katharine Stewart, Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability Director at Primark, said: “Primark’s long-term ambition is to ensure all the cotton in our supply chain is sourced sustainably. We approached SEWA and CottonConnect because we wanted to develop a project that would give us invaluable insight into producing sustainable cotton and make a meaningful difference for cotton farmers in India.
“We knew that to have maximum impact, the program needed to be delivered by experts on the ground with local knowledge and expertise to engage with smallholders and their families. In doing so it has shown that sustainable farming methods are good for the environment and farmers’ incomes. But more than that, this program has improved lives. It has helped to empower these women and narrow the gender inequality gap in their communities. We’re looking forward to reaching even more women in the coming years.”
Varsha Agola, a Primark’s Sustainable Cotton Program farmer, said: “Before joining the program, everything I knew about farming was from learning by doing. After three years of training I can now say that I’ve gained expert skills in growing cotton. As a result, my crops and profit have gone up and I am able to enjoy a better livelihood. Both my children are in education and I’ve been able to build a new house, buy a tractor and lay 18,000 feet of pipeline from the nearest canal to my fields. I have also been elected as village head and I’m looking to share my experience and encourage other women to consider the program.”
Reema Nanavaty, Leader of the Self Employed Women’s Association, said: “From our experience working with rural poor women workers across India, we know that employment is key to women’s economic empowerment and self-reliance, both economically and in terms of their decision-making ability.
“This program marks the first time SEWA has collaborated with a western brand and a specialist agricultural organisation to bring about lasting, sustainable change in women farmers. What’s most exciting is the impact the program is having on not just the women farmers themselves, but the broader village community too.”
About the Primark Sustainable Cotton Program
The Primark Sustainable Cotton Program saw 1,251 female farmers trained in sustainable farming methods from 2013-2016. In 2016 the program was extended to train an additional 10,000 women over a six-year period. Farmers received training and support from CottonConnect and SEWA experts on the ground through classroom sessions, in-field training and learning groups. Farmers were trained on the most appropriate farming techniques for their land, from seed selection, sowing, soil, water, pesticide and pest management, to picking, fibre quality, grading and storage of the harvested cotton. For example:
- Use of different watering systems such as furrow instead of flooding and micro irrigation systems (e.g. sprinkler and drip), some of which can help farmers to use 40—60% less water
- Water management to use water at the right time during critical growth stages
- Use of the right amount of fertiliser to ensure soil health and preparation of natural fertiliser to encourage growth of crops
- Soil testing to enable farmers to identify amount of carbon in land and fertilizer required
- Use of different pest control such as natural/organic pesticides at the right time rather than focusing on chemical methods alone
- Management of disease before, during and after attack, including right planting rate, good soil nutrition, management of soil residues to minimise risk of diseases carrying over to the next crop and crop rotation strategy
The first intake of female farmers are now receiving additional training through the Farmer Business School – a training program which provides farmers with basic financial training and management skills. The training covers a range of different areas including how to manage input costs, the importance of book-keeping and how to buy and sell cotton as part of a collective to help them get the best price for their cotton.