Cotton fields in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Brazil produces the highest volume of sustainable BCI cotton. © Getty Images
Cotton fields in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Brazil produces the highest volume of sustainable BCI cotton. © Getty Images

A fifth of cotton now sustainable

A fifth (19%) of cotton produced globally is now sustainable, according to a report.

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has released its 2018 annual report on progress towards mainstreaming sustainably produced cotton, in alignment with a goal to represent 30% of global production by 2020.

In collaboration with 69 partners and 1,400 BCI members, more than 2 million farmers across 21 countries were trained in sustainable agricultural practices in the 2017-18 season. The initiative aims to train and improve the livelihoods of 5 million farmers by 2020. This has boosted the volume of sustainably-produced cotton by 50% compared to the 2016-17 season.

Sourcing of sustainable cotton hit a record of 1m tonnes at the end of 2018, increasing by 45% compared to 2017, through 93 BCI retail members such as Levis Strauss & Co, Adidas, Nike, Gap, IKEA and H&M, according to the report.

Global BCI cotton consumption has reached 4%, closing in on the 2020 target of 10%. New retail members include US clothing company Guess and Australian department store chain Target.

Alan McClay, CEO at BCI, said: “Our comprehensive programme of training, practical demonstrations and knowledge-sharing helps farmers to raise their yields, reduce their impacts on the environment and improve working conditions.

“We address multiple environmental issues – from soil health and pesticide use to water stewardship – and raise awareness of the importance of decent work, focusing in particular on promoting women’s empowerment and preventing child labour.”

Brazil, China, and Pakistan make up the top three cotton-producing countries under BCI and equivalent-recognised standards, contributing to approximately 2.3m tonnes of total sustainable cotton production in 2017-18. Brazil made 1.54m tonnes (30%), China made almost 1.19m tonnes (23%), and Pakistan produced 701,000 tonnes (13.6%).

Sustainable BCI cotton accounted for 5% of US production through the participation of 360 farms. The US overcame challenges by implementing advanced agricultural technology including drip irrigation to reduce water needs and GPS technology to increase production through matching fertilisers with ideal soil types.

Michael Kobori, vice-president of sustainability at Levi Strauss, said: “Being a member of BCI demonstrates to consumers and shareholders that an organisation is committed to sourcing sustainable raw materials and supporting sustainable cotton. At Levi Strauss & Co, cotton accounts for 93% of all the raw materials we use for products, so it is a critical commodity for us.”

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