Third year's a charm for Primark's sustainable cotton initiative

High street retailer Primark has helped rural female farmers in India increase average profits by 247% through the third year of its Sustainable Cotton Programme.

Primark announced in March that it is scaling up the initiative to recruit a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India onto the programme

Primark announced in March that it is scaling up the initiative to recruit a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India onto the programme

Established in 2013 in partnership with CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the programme trains women farmers on sustainable farming methods in order to improve their income and livelihoods. New data released today (9 February), revealed that 1,251 farmers have participated and enjoyed a rise in profits during the three-year programme.

Through Primark’s programme, female farmers have seen average profits increase by 247% over a three-year time span. Input costs have fallen by 19.2% in this timeframe as farmers spend less capital on fertiliser. In total, chemical fertiliser use fell by 44% as Primark encouraged farmers to deploy more environmentally sustainable methods. A 10% reduction in water use also boost the efficiency and cost of the practice.

Primark’s ethical trade and environmental sustainability director Katharine Stewart said: “Primark’s long-term ambition is to ensure all the cotton in our supply chain is sourced sustainably. 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.”

India is the second largest producer of cotton global and International Trade Centre data shows that women account for 70% of the cotton planting and 90% of the hand-picking in rural parts of the country. Despite this, the average income for women in the country is just 78% of a man’s annual wage.

Primark announced in March that it is scaling up the initiative to recruit a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India onto the programme. To encourage participation, the firm has enrolled the first intake of farmers into the Farmer Business School. The school offers basic financial training and management skills to compliment the sustainability teachings.

CottonConnect’s chief executive Alison Ward added: “Creating sustainable, long-lasting change in cotton-growing communities in India can be challenging. It is something that no one organisation can achieve alone.

“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.”

Sign them up

Primark has been a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition for more than a year. Through the coalition, Primark has access to the Higg Index - where members enter sustainability data into a series of online tools which then generate standardised performance scores that can be shared and benchmarked.

During the edie Live exhibition in May last year, Primark’s environmental sustainability controller for ethical trade, Charles Dickinson, signalled his intention to sign the firm up to WRAP's Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) and the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) initiatives. The company officially announced its membership in November.

Matt Mace


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