Primark has today released new numbers revealing the impact of its Sustainable Cotton Programme on women smallholders in India. The data shows that female farmers saw an average profit increase of 247%¹ in the third year of the programme. Many used this additional income to invest in farm and home improvements, healthcare and education for their children.
Set up in 2013, the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme is a partnership between Primark, agricultural experts CottonConnect, and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The programme 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 programme and in 2016 Primark announced that the programme 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-picking², the average income for women in rural India is just 78% of men’s.³ 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.4
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 programme 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 programme 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 programme 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 programme 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 Programme farmer, said: “Before joining the programme, 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 programme.”
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 programme 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 programme is having on not just the women farmers themselves, but the broader village community too.”
About the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme
The Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme saw 1,251 female farmers trained in sustainable farming methods from 2013-2016. In 2016 the programme 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 programme 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.
Notes to editors
Primark operates over 325 stores in eleven countries: Republic of Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, the US and Italy; and has over 69,000 employees. Primark’s first US store opened in September 2015 and the first store in Italy opened in April 2016. Primark offers high quality commercial fashion at value for money prices, put simply, “Amazing Fashion, Amazing Prices”.
CottonConnect was created in 2009 and aims to deliver a market-driven approach that provides opportunities for retailers and brands, as well as farmers, to simultaneously expand economic opportunity, reduce poverty and protect the environment. For more information, visit www.cottonconnect.org
About the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
SEWA is a trade union registered in 1972 for self-employed women workers who earn a living through their own labour or small business. For more information, visit www.sewa.org
¹ Data from field books collected by CottonConnect and SEWA and compared to a group of 50 control farmers who are representative of the general cotton industry in Gujarat.
² Women in Cotton: Results of a Global Survey, Technical Paper 2011 Available at: http://www.intracen.org/uploadedFiles/intracenorg/Content/Exporters/Sectors/Food_and_agri_business/Cotton/AssetPDF/Women%20in%20cotton%20-%209%2011%2011%20FINAL.pdf
³ India Census, 2011.
4 India committed to gender equality: Government tells UN, Economic Times, 2015 Available at: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-03-12/news/60047988_1_gender-equality-gender-budgeting-gender-perspective