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What is the Better Cotton Initiative?

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world with the aim to transform cotton production worldwide by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. It has set an ambitious target to reach and train five million farmers on more sustainable practices and to have Better Cotton account for 30% of global cotton production by 2020.

BCI has developed a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production through the Better Cotton Standard System, which covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. The Better Cotton Standard System is designed to ensure the exchange of good practices, and to encourage the scaling up of collective action to establish Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.

As part of the Better Cotton Standard System, BCI farmers adhere to seven Better Cotton Principles and Criteria. These include minimizing the harmful impact of crop protection practices, enhancing biodiversity, promoting water stewardship and decent work, and caring for the health of the soil. The Principles also emphasize on moving beyond basic compliance towards capacity-building and continuous improvement.

The Better Cotton Assurance Programme involves farmers participating in a continuous cycle of learning and improvement. It is the primary mechanism for assessing whether farmers can grow and sell Better Cotton. Within the programme, farms are differentiated into smallholders, medium farms and large farms. To be licensed to grow Better Cotton, farmers must first reach a set of Core Indicators that ensure that the cotton grown meets the standards for pesticide use, water management, decent work, record keeping, training and other factors. At the same time, farmers are encouraged to develop further through Improvement Indicators. Improvements are measured through a questionnaire and receive a score based on their answers. The high scoring farmers are rewarded through extended Better Cotton licence periods.

Why is it important to grow Better Cotton?

Cotton is an extremely important crop and provides valuable inputs that power a host of value chains and production processes globally. Every day, people across the world use or wear cotton. Producing this versatile, renewable crop supports the livelihoods of more than 250 million people. However, cotton farming today can exhaust natural resources and increase vulnerability of labor. It is estimated that production consumes 16% of all insecticides and 6% of all pesticides worldwide, despite covering only 2.4% of the cultivated land. With less than 20% of the cotton grown today being Better Cotton, the future of cotton is vulnerable to challenges including climate change, water scarcity and pest pressures.

© BCI/Paulo Escudeiro 2018.

What are we doing about it?

We work with a diverse range of stakeholders across the cotton supply chain to promote measurable and continuing improvements for the environment, farming communities and the economies of cotton-producing areas.

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What have we achieved so far?

The initiative has seen significant success over the years. In the 2017-2018 cotton season, BCI and its field-level partners provided training to over 2.2 million farmers and ‘Better Cotton’ accounted for 19% of global cotton production. The training provided to BCI Farmers helped to significantly improve production practices. For example, in the 2017-18 cotton season, BCI Farmers in China used 18% less water for irrigation than Comparison Farmers, while BCI Farmers in India used 19% less pesticides than Comparison Farmers. In addition, BCI Farmers in China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey saw higher yields and profits than Comparison Farmers in the 2017-18 cotton season.

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What is the Better Cotton Innovation Challenge?

The Better Cotton Innovation Challenge is a global platform that has been set up to help scale the BCI sustainability program. It aims to address opportunities within the BCI program that lend themselves to a breakthrough innovation approach as opposed to incremental improvements. The Challenge calls for innovative solutions from around the globe using cutting edge technology, design thinking, behavioural nudges.

The Challenge is expected to run through multiple rounds over the coming years and will cover a range of opportunities including how farmers are engaged, how trainings are conducted, how measurement of adoption are carried out and how the business model of the program is structured. The list of opportunities was developed in partnership with Dalberg Advisors through a thorough study of the BCI program.


Two opportunities have been shortlisted for the first round of the innovation challenge based on initial benchmarking that revealed that up to a ‘5X’ performance gain is possible in these activities based on innovations and methods in adjacent spaces. These two areas are:

More details of the opportunity areas are shared in the respective challenge pages.