On average women earn 78% of what a man earns in rural India © James McCauley
On average women earn 78% of what a man earns in rural India © James McCauley

Profits rise for Primark's female cotton farmers

10 February 2017

Female farmers participating in Primark's Sustainable Cotton Programme have seen their profits increase by 247% in the third year. 

The programme, set up in 2013 with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), aimed to support women from traditionally male-dominated communities in the Indian province of Gujarat by introducing sustainable farming methods and increasing incomes.

According to data collected by CottonConnect and SEWA, the women participating in the programme have seen average profits increase by 247% in the third year of the programme, with input costs falling by 19.2% as farmers spend less capital on fertiliser.

The data also showed chemical fertiliser use fell by 40% as Primark encouraged farmers to deploy more environmentally sustainable methods, while there was a 10% cut in water use.

Katherine Stewart, ethical trade and environmental sustainability director for Primark,  said the fashion house’s ambition was to create a project that would not only lead to producing sustainable cotton but also make a meaningful difference for cotton farmers in India. 

“We knew that to have maximum impact, the programme needed to be delivered by experts on the ground with local knowledge and expertise to engage with smallholders and their families,” she said.

“In doing so it has shown that sustainable farming methods are good for the environment and farmers’ incomes.

“But more than that, this programme has improved lives. It has helped to empower these women and narrow the gender inequality gap in their communities.”

In India, the world’s second largest producer of cotton, despite women accounting for 70% of cotton planting and 90% of hand-picking, the average income for women in rural parts of India is 78% of men’s, according to International Trade Centre data.

In total, 1,251 farmers participated in the first three years of the initiative and in 2016, Primark announced the programme would be extended to reach a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India over a six-year period.

To encourage participation, the firm enrolled the first intake of growers into the Farmer Business School to offer basic financial training and management skills to complement the programme’s sustainability teachings.

CottonConnect chief executive Alison Ward said by collaborating with the high street retailer, the participating women’s lives had drastically improved within their communities.

“Key to its success was gaining the support of male elders and family members,” she said.

“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.” 

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