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Growing Sustainable Cotton In India

Cotton represents nearly half the fibre used to make clothes and other textiles worldwide. It can take up to 2,700 litres of water to produce one conventional cotton t-shirt: that’s equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years. In addition to water challenges, pesticide and fertiliser use are also associated with conventional methods of cotton cultivation, with fertilisers identified as the major factor of greenhouse gas emissions in cotton cultivation. 

Many M&S garments are made from cotton sourced in India - we recognise that to have a secure source of cotton for the future, these issues need to be mitigated. That’s why we’re aiming to deliver 50% of cotton from more sustainable sources by 2020. 

WWF and M&S started working on sustainable cotton in India in 2009, with the first harvest of Better Cotton produced in 2010. We work directly with WWF in the Warangal and Karimnagar districts of India, working with over 18,500 farmers who’ve been certified as BCI farmers on nearly 20,000 hectares of cotton production areas. We also indirectly fund projects in many other countries as part of the Better Cotton Fast Track Program (BCFTP). 

BCI particularly focuses on supporting farmers to develop ways of producing cotton that use less water and fewer chemicals. This includes:

- Reducing the use of pesticides, fertiliser and irrigation water, which not only has a positive impact on the environment but also reduces farmers’ costs
- Training on how to use water more efficiently 
- Introducing safety measures for cotton pickers including wearing gloves and face masks when working, not working in the fields for a minimum period after spraying and women not working in the fields when pregnant
- Many cotton pickers are women and this programme helps to educate them to take care of their own health and that of their families

The benefits that BCI is delivering are tangible: BCI farmers in the WWF/M&S project in Warangal and Karimnagar have a net income 114% higher than that of conventional farmers. On average, in the 2013-14 season, they used 22% less commercial fertilizer, 18% fewer chemical pesticides and 16% less water. Across the whole of India, BCI farmers gained 44% higher profits, 18% higher yield and used 28% less commercial fertiliser, 22% more organic fertiliser, 24% fewer pesticides and 14% less water.

We’re delighted that, in 2013/14, we soured 31% of our cotton more sustainably and
BCI accounted for the majority of this.

The partners in this programme are:
-Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)