At first sight, the concrete and breezeblock farm buildings scattered across the Syr Darya floodplains in Central Asia have no connection with the world’s finest fashion brands.
Yet with its expansive flat and rolling plains, southern Kazakhstan was once part of the famous Silk Road and, centuries later, has become the powerhouse of Central Asia’s cotton production.
Today, it must transform again. Global demand for cotton is rising, and consumers are increasingly eco-conscious and informed. They want to buy products made with sustainable cotton.
Matching this trend, the world’s fashion retailers are stepping up their efforts to source sustainable cotton. In 2017, top clothing and textile companies issued a “Sustainable Cotton Communiqué” in which they committed to 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. And others are following suit.
LDC has partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) since 2012 to achieve common goals, with joint projects in a number of cotton-producing countries over the years. In 2016, we teamed up with BCI, as an implementing partner, to run a three-year project to help farmers in Kazakhstan meet BCI’s sustainability standards, which include pesticide use, water management, work conditions, record keeping, training and more.
For Kazakh farmers, the project benefits include a more marketable product, greater productivity, lower costs of production and higher incomes, combined with reduced use of pesticides, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less depletion of local water resources.
“The potential is great,” says Rayhan Kasymbaeva, managing the project since it began. “Farmers here have a lot of agricultural knowledge and expertise, which is a good start.”
State support for the agricultural sector is also strong in the region, which has grown “white gold” as far back as the fifth and sixth centuries. This is an advantage for the initiative.
Still, local producers have sometimes been unsure about sustainable cotton.
“We see strong demand from retailers for sustainable cotton,” Rayhan says. “But we still have difficulties in getting the message across to farmers.”
Rayhan’s team presents the benefits of sustainable production to farmers on small and medium-sized farms through training, raising awareness about sustainability and its commercial and social benefits, and teaching farmers useful self-assessment techniques. LDC also offers harvest machinery (cotton pickers) to the farmers at a discounted rate.
The project is in line with LDC’s purpose of fair and sustainable value creation, and supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – particularly SDG1 on poverty reduction, SDG10 on reducing inequality and SDG17 on partnership for the goals.
“This is an excellent example of how sustainable practices support commercial interests and those of society as a whole,” says Guy Hogge, Global Head of Sustainability at LDC.
|Better Cotton Initiative: Theory of Change
• Calls for transformation of the cotton production sector
• Works toward sustainability in farm and market
• Contributes to increased farmer knowledge and skills, improved farming practices, and the creation of a global community that shares best practice and encourages continuous improvement.
• Contributes to optimize input use, farm productivity, enhanced water quality, soil health and biodiversity, improved labor conditions, health and safety for farmers, workers and their families.
For more information, visit https://bettercotton.org