As World Water Week kicks off in Stockholm, 31st August to 5th September 2014, CottonConnect warns that more support is needed for smallholder cotton farmers as they grapple with the effects of water scarcity, which could put the global cotton industry at serious risk.
Cotton Connect is calling for the cotton supply chain to help take farmer training to scale to increase yields and reduce the water footprint in cotton growing regions in the developing world. Basic interventions such as farmer training and knowledge sharing on basic agricultural practices, have resulted in 30% reductions in water use among smallholder farmer and installing simple technologies, such as drip irrigation systems, have resulted in water savings of up to 60%.
Cotton Connect, the business with a social mission to help retailers and brands create a more sustainable cotton supply chain, releases a report today, 'More Crop Per Drop â€“ Water Report on the Cotton Industry', focusing on working with smallholder farmers to increase yield and maximise water efficiency. The report reveals that to protect the cotton industry, brands need to get involved in supporting smallholder farmers in the developing world, where over 100 million smallholder farmers are responsible for 90% of the worldâ€™s cotton production.
The call to action in the report asks brands to collaborate to:
1. Map and ensure greater transparency and closer relationships across the supply chain;
2. Support farmer training programmes for basic interventions to reduce water footprints;
3. Collaborate and help to fund initiatives to help drive cotton supply chain sustainability at scale.
CottonConnect has worked with 130,000 cotton farmers and their families in India, Pakistan and China, proving that basic interventions can make a huge difference to the water being used to grow cotton, one of the worldâ€™s most thirsty crops.
The organisation has collaborated with major brands, including John Lewis, C&A Foundation along with the Better Cotton Initiative, to help improve relationships with farmers on the ground, improve resilience and share best practice in basic agricultural techniques and technologies, in cotton growing regions of the developing world.
The report invites other brands and retailers to support education and training among smallholder farmers to increase impact and scale. It says that if companies work in collaboration with NGOs, governments and their competitors, they can help to scale-up these proven water conservation methods and drive sustainability improvements across the entire cotton supply chain, which consists of more than 100 million smallholder cotton farmers globally.
"Through farmer training programmes, working closely with more than 130,000 farmers, we have learned that many do not have access to basic information and training," said Alison Ward, CEO of CottonConnect. "But implementing simple measures farmers can improve their yield and make significant water savings. With these sorts of findings and with the knowledge that there are more than 100 million farmers involved in cotton production, we know we need to scale up these efforts to dramatically reduce the water footprint in the cotton industry. But we cannot do that without the support of brands.
"Brands selling cotton clothes and homeware products are reliant on a supply chain which is facing severe climate change impacts and water shortages. It is in their interest to work closely with organisations that can influence cotton farmers in conserving and making better use of the water they have. We offer an opportunity to make that happen. We have access and trust of the farmers through our partners â€“ and we can scale-up our impact more than ten times over with the right support. Failure to connect all parts of this supply chain will put the future of cotton at risk."
As World Water Week kicks off in Stockholm, the water debate is in the spotlight with major global corporates helping to raise the profile of today's most pressing water challenges.
"But the other end of the supply chain is often overlooked. With 100 million farmers growing cotton globally, the impact that can be had through providing access to learning and basic technologies is significant," says the report. "Companies, NGOs, governments and international development agencies must not forget the farmers on the ground that need the help and support of all stakeholders if they are to run more efficient and sustainable operations."
The report contains a series of case studies including:
1. Basic Agricultural Practices Adopted in India, which highlights CottonConnect's farmer training programme in Maharashtra, a western region of India where the falling water table has left farmers vulnerable. Some simple changes to practices â€“ such as burrow irrigation, green mulching and soil conservation â€“ has enabled farmers to improve yields and reduce their water use by 30%.
2. The Drip Pool Programme in India, a project funded by the C&A Foundation and designed to improve the productivity of the cotton crop for farmers in India by cutting the water footprint through the use of irrigation. Magan Bhai from Sanosara village in Gujarat, installed drip irrigation system and increased his production of cotton by 50% compared to the previous year. Last year, his earnings jumped from INR190,000 ($3,147) to INR285,000 ($4,720).
Leslie Johnston, Executive Director C&A Foundation, comments: "We are proud to support CottonConnect in its work connecting retailers to cotton farmers, helping both to work closely together to create a sustainable cotton industry and better business for the future. There are many examples of the positive impact for the cotton industry and by sharing these stories, we hope more brands will be inspired to act."
3. Bringing John Lewis Face to Face with its Cotton Farmers, via the UK retailer's three-year farmer training programmme with CottonConnect designed to improve its relationship with suppliers and increase traceability of its products. In total, 1,500 farmers will be trained, positively affecting the lives, livelihoods and employment of around 7,500 people â€“ and giving the John Lewis buying team a full understanding of exactly where their cotton comes from.
"John Lewis is an established and trusted brand, so it was natural for us to want to ensure transparency and integrity right across our supply chain and support the development of close relationships with our suppliers," said Stephen Cawley, Head of Sustainability and Responsible Sourcing John Lewis.
"The engagement brings benefits to the brand - we are helping to ensure security of supply, traceability to the fibre source, as well as having a positive impact on the social and environmental conditions of the farmers in India - which is crucial when such a large part of our manufacturing supply chain is based in that part of the world."
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