Primark extends sustainable cotton initiative to 10,000 farmers

Primar­­­­­­­­­­­k is scaling up a sustainable cotton scheme as the discount fashion retailer looks to recruit a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India onto the programme.

The initiative, which is being run in partnership with CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), will be extended by a further six years. It is designed to support women from traditionally male-dominated farming communities in Gujarat, India, to introduce sustainable farming methods, improve cotton yields and increase incomes.

According to Primark, the three-year pilot has already trained 1,251 female smallholders. By year two of the trial, female farmers recorded an average profit increase of 211%, an average yield increase of 12.6%, and a reduction of input costs by 5%.

In addition, the programme has encouraged adoption of more sustainable farming methods – including a 13.5% reduction of fertiliser usage, a 53.5% reduction of pesticide usage, and a water usage decrease of 12.9%.

The success of the initiative meant that Primark has today (8 March) been revealed on the shortlist of edie’s 2016 Environment & Energy Awards, in the Environmental Initiative category.

Driving change

According to Paul Lister, who is responsible for Primark’s ethical trading team, the company wanted to develop a project that would not only improve sustainable cotton production, but make a meaningful difference for cotton farmers. 

“We believe that partnership holds the key to delivering change in developing countries such as India, which is why we approached SEWA and introduced them to sustainable agricultural experts, CottonConnect,” said Lister. “The results have exceeded all our expectations and I’m delighted that we’ll have the opportunity to reach a further 10,000 female farmers over the next six years.”

CottonConnect’s cihef executive Alison Ward said the initiative was tackling some of the challenges faced in achieving gender equality across farming communities. “We find that women do not attend mixed training sessions when they’re delivered, so the knowledge that this programme has brought them will go a long way to building a better life for them and their families in the future. It’s also great to see how proud their husbands are of their work.”

Gender gap

Over the past five years, studies have revealed that agricultural programmes which effectively involve women can significantly increase cotton production and trigger transformative societal benefits.

The United Nations estimates that closing the gender gap in agriculture globally would generate significant gains for the agriculture sector and for society. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%. A further study by the Global Development Institute in 2013 found that with higher incomes, women are more likely than men to support household welfare and children’s education.

Last October, Primark joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, in a bid to strengthen its commitments on supply chain sustainability.

Maxine Perella

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