Communicating the business case for farmers

This year the Innovation Forum’s Smallholder Sustainable Development Event will address the major risks for smallholder farmers across agricultural sectors and how businesses can create scalable solutions to tackle future supply chain vulnerabilities.

Alison Ward, CottonConnect’s CEO, will discuss how companies can better make the business case for change to farmers, recognising that effective smallholder programmes are important for long-term resilience to avoid future supply risks.

Innovation Forum logo The need to support smallholder cotton farmers

Cotton is a significant commodity crop, being the most widely used natural fibre in the textile industry, accounting for almost 40% of global textile production. Smallholder cotton farmers, mostly operating in the developing world, can be offered advice but are sometimes receiving conflicting information from people with different interests.

How can they be motivated and encouraged to produce more sustainable cotton supplies? Building trust is important and helping them to understand that, by enrolling in the right training programmes, they can be more productive and see improved yields that will benefit their family and community.

Just 12% of the world’s cotton is currently classed as sustainable, again highlighting a growing call for businesses to think about how best to reach the farmers within their supply chain to communicate the benefits of change. Businesses can invest to help them adopt new practices on the ground that will support their long-term resilience and help to protect cotton supplies.


The business case for sustainability initiatives

Through an understanding that sustainability makes business sense, companies can implement initiatives that provide the necessary inputs to boost productivity and create scalable solutions that will help farmers. Through credible sustainability initiatives, farmers should benefit from higher yields, lower production costs, access to markets, greater profits and reduced environmental impacts, contributing towards achieving other United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Putting these principles into practice, CottonConnect have implemented several projects to build trust with farmers, enhance their productivity and boost resilience.

REEL Programme

In partnership with leading brands and retailers, CottonConnect’s Responsible Environmental Enhanced Livelihoods (REEL) Programme is a 3-year agricultural programme providing farmers with training on sustainable cotton farming practices, focusing on principles such as soil nutrient management, ecosystem protection and water use efficiency. The REEL Cotton Programme is independently verified by a code of conduct.

“CottonConnect’s training makes my life easier. The cotton quality is improved as the plant has more air and light, so is the cotton price. Aphids in hot summer is the hardest to control. I sprayed pesticides almost every 3-5 days before, but with little results. I learned the key points to control aphids from your training. Pesticides and labour were saved.”
Liu Chaozheng, China

Innovation Forum smallholder farmer

Now in its seventh year, the REEL programme has trained more than 20,000 farmers, predominantly in subsistence economies in India, China, Pakistan and Peru, and has been shown to improve yield by 16%, profit by 41% and farmers are using less water, pesticides and fertilisers by as much as 40% compared with farmers with no sustainability programme farming training.

“Thanks to the REEL cotton programme we learnt about the essential nutrients required for healthy cotton growth. For the first time in so many years we received a better quality of cotton with increased yields which resulted in a high market price for our cotton.”
Godiben Vasani, Cotton farmer from Surendranagar, Gujarat, India.

Farmer Business School

Building on learnings from the REEL programme, CottonConnect’s Farmer Business School works towards long-term resilience for communities, providing a platform for access to finance and community organisation. Through the Famer Business School programme, CottonConnect are working towards changing farmers’ attitudes, building their entrepreneurial skills and business competencies, diversifying their production and enabling them to take advantage of new technologies and market opportunities.

Innovation Forum smallholders cotton

The schools have been piloted in China and India, and results in China have already shown positive results due to increased awareness, with 95% knowing the profitability of their farms (compared to 68% pre-training), 80% wanting to keep track of their outgoings (compared to 10% farmers normally maintaining the habit), and 87% saying they would like to buy insurance (compared to 13% actually buying in past).

“Thanks to CottonConnect’s training, the quality of my cotton improved and the yield increased a lot too. The training helped me save pesticides and labour input, and I now have more time for leisure”.
Cao Mingzhu, China

More information about the Innovation Forum session Alison will be speaking at can be found here, and for more information about CottonConnect’s work towards improving the capacities of smallholder farmers, please get in touch.

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