Meet Hiru. She has been growing cotton for more than 20 years. India is one of the world’s largest cotton-producing countries and many of its cotton farmers – Hiru among them – are smallholders who work relatively compact parcels of land. She and her family own a four-acre farm surrounded by other farms where they grow cotton and other crops.
Before Hiru joined Primark’s Sustainable Cotton Programme (PSCP), she relied heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilisers to grow her cotton, which she bought from a local store. She also watered the whole field in one go.
Even so, yields were low: 500kg-750kg of cotton per acre. “We couldn’t make ends meet,” Hiru remembers.
Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme
In 2013 Primark partnered with agricultural experts Cotton Connect and the Indian NGO Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to create the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme, now the biggest of its kind in the fashion industry, training thousands of farmers in more natural and more sustainable farming methods, reducing the use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and water. We believe that by supporting the better farming practices introduced by this programme, will have a positive impact on both farmers and the planet.
For Hiru, things turned around when she joined the programme: “There [was] a change in our lives,” she says, her voice ringing clear and strong.
Hiru says that her farming became more deliberate, thanks to on-the-ground advice from SEWA. Instead of sowing randomly, she began to space her cotton plants one foot (30 cm) apart. “Now we think about what we spray,” she says. Instead of chemicals, she uses buffalo dung to fertilise the soil, which is not only kinder to the planet, but also less expensive.
And rather than watering the whole farm, Hiru and her family have switched to alternate-furrow watering, which reduces how much water she needs for irrigation.
The Benefits of More Sustainable Farming
The changes have seen her cotton yield shoot up – to 1,500kg per acre. “The land is better,” Hiru says proudly, in a nod to the more sustainable farming methods she has learned to use.
She also follows the advice of SEWA when it comes to selling her cotton. She is now separating and storing the best of her crop to get the best price possible. And she is smarter about what price she will accept for the rest. She no longer asks the cotton traders to check the prices but uses a smartphone to do so herself. If today’s price seems too low, she waits.
“Our income has increased fourfold,” says Hiru. “Now we have enough to live on and we can save too.” She and her husband also plan to educate their four daughters. “It’s up to them what they do with it,” she says.
Her story is fairly typical. Since it began, Primark’s Sustainable Cotton Programme, has trained thousands of farmers. On average their incomes have risen by 200%. What’s more, farmers in the programme have on average reduced their use of chemical pesticides by 42%, their use of chemical fertilisers by 26% and their water use by 10%.*
Primark has now committed to train 275,000 farmers through the programme by the end of 2023.
We are also working with CottonConnect to help our PSCP farmers incorporate even better farming practices. In other words, we will work with farmers to introduce further practices that prioritise soil health, water management, fertiliser use and more. Our aim is for all our PSCP farmers to use these more regenerative farming practices by 2030. These will actively improve and restore the local environment where the materials we use are farmed, delivering real change for the benefit of the farmers and for the planet.
*These figures are averages of programme results in India from 2013-2019, in comparison to control farmers.