Biodiversity is vital to our planet. As part of our ongoing sustainability journey, we’re striving to not only reduce the negative impact of the garment industry on the natural world, but to reach a place where we’re positively restoring it.
We worked with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), which partners with business and governments to develop leadership and solutions for a sustainable economy, alongside other stakeholders and companies to develop approaches and indicators for measuring biodiversity, soil and water impacts. We used this work to carry out an assessment of our Sustainable Cotton Programme to assist us in developing our programme further. Now we’re working with Biodiversify, a nature conservation consultancy, to help us get a better understanding of our impact on biodiversity. Together we’re conducting a comprehensive biodiversity risk assessment across our entire supply chain.
Supporting more sustainable farming
Our work with Biodiversify has shown that one of the key areas where we have the scope to make a difference is through our Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme. Cotton production is known to impact biodiversity, soil and water. It also requires a healthy, functioning environment for optimal production. For example, soil biodiversity is important for maintaining healthy and fertile soils and a consistent water supply is critical to cotton growth.
When we began the Primark Sustainable Cotton programme in 2013 we were working with 1,251 small scale farmers in Gujarat India. By the end of 2023, we will have trained 275,000 small scale farmers in more sustainable farming methods.. The programme has two main components – agronomic training and ‘sustainable livelihoods’ training. The aim of the programme is to reduce the environmental impact of cotton growing, whilst improving farmer livelihoods. The agronomic training covers every part of the cotton growing cycle – from seed selection to land preparation, integrated pest management, water management, harvesting and storage.
The programme has delivered results for the farmers for example:
|India (2013-2019)*||Pakistan (2018-2020)*|
|Avg Yield Increase||14.3%||12.26%|
|Avg Profit Increase||205.5%||24.44%|
|Avg Water Reduction||9.9%||12.91%|
|Avg Chemical Fertiliser Reduction||26.0%||15.57%|
|Avg Chemical Pesticide Reduction||41.7%||16.56%|
*These figures are in comparison to control farmers
The training is provided in partnership with our agronomic experts Cotton Connect and implementing partners ,SEWA in India and REEDS in Pakistan,, who work within the farming communities. The training is modified to provide advice and practical demonstrations through ‘demo plots’. The programme builds local expertise on better farming and showcases practices to encourage buy-in from wider cotton farming communities.
Evolving cotton farming to enhance biodiversity
In 2020 Primark, CottonConnect and CISL collaborated to develop indicators to measure the environmental impact of the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme. These assess the farming practices that have been proven to benefit biodiversity, soil and water that the PSCP farmers are implementing on their farms.
The research was based on a sample of 1,408 farmers in Gujarat. It showed that, on average, the farmers in the PSCP program adopted 43.6% more agricultural management practices with a positive impact on biodiversity, soil and water, when compared to control framers in the same region. These practices included:
- planting border crops
- trap crops
- alternate furrow irrigation and planting trees
- using pheromone traps and sticky tapes.
The CISL report also highlighted where there was room for further improvement, especially in soil health. It also outlined opportunities to improve the indicators through collecting data from farmers on a small number of additional management practices, such as crop rotation.
Regenerative farming to rehabilitate the ecosystem
These initiatives are a positive start – but we can do more. While we will continue to embed practices to protect biodiversity, soil and water, we’re also evolving to focus not just on ‘doing no harm’, but on finding ways to drive rehabilitation and enhance cotton farm ecosystems through more regenerative cotton cultivation.
This is a system of farming principles and practices that seek to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing priority on soil health, water management, fertiliser use, and more. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.
By 2030, 100% of cotton from the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme will come from farmers who are adopting to more regenerative practices. We’re developing an industry leading new regenerative code for small scale cotton farming with Cotton Connect, our trusted partner already helping to implement the PSCP programme. The new code continues to focus on providing resilient and sustainable livelihoods for farmers and centres on four core principles:
- soil health and land management
- pest control
- farmer and worker fairness.
This code will enable us to transition our existing scheme into a regenerative cotton programme. The first step is already underway, with pilot projects in India and Pakistan, where we’re working with 1,000 farmers in each country to help inform our approach. We’ll continue supporting our programme farmers with a comprehensive training programme to help them transition towards more regenerative farming practices.
Regenerative farming practices are better for the planet, and better for farmers. Our goal is to enhance farm-level biodiversity, increase soil health, use water more efficiently, whilst still continuing to support improved livelihoods for farmers.
Our vision is to scale our regenerative code to have a greater impact. We will continue to collaborate with our industry to effect long term, sustainable change to protect our environment and our farmers.