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Around 99% of the world’s cotton farmers are smallholders, who produce some 75% of global cotton production annually. As a result, cotton supply chains are complex and can present a number of sustainability challenges.

“Recognizing that collaboration with others can maximize the impact of our activities, we work with a range of partners to improve supply chain practices and promote the purchase of sustainably produced cotton.”

Joe Nicosia

Head of Cotton

Joe Nicosia

Better Cotton

In 2021, we continued to leverage the influence and resources of our industry-leading position to advance sustainable cotton production, working alongside textile industry partners and expert organizations such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), the International Labour Organization (ILO), Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA) and the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, to drive progress in the industry.

BCI is the world’s leading sustainability initiative for cotton, working to support cotton communities to thrive while protecting and restoring the environment.

At LDC, we promote the BCI’s comprehensive sustainability standards in our cotton supply chains, and prioritize the purchase of Better Cotton where possible.

Spotlight on Kazakhstan  

In Kazakhstan, increased external geopolitical tension and logistic issues prevented us from meeting our goal to increase our base of smallholder farmers by 40%. Still, we continued to build on the strong ties we have established with local cotton farming communities since 2006, maintained our base of some 500 smallholder farmers, and ensuring that our entire Kazakh origination program in the country was BCI-certified. 

Our Platform teams are evaluating the domestic situation with regard to ongoing external challenges, in order to re-define targets for the coming years.

Focus on India

In India, we supported sustainable cotton production by increasing the volume of Better Cotton purchased by 50% year on year, bought from ginners and traders who engaged directly with the cotton farmers to train them in BCI-standard best practices.

Progress in Zambia

In Zambia, cotton is predominantly produced by smallholders with an average 2ha holding, of which 0.5ha are used for cotton production. Cotton production in Zambia decreased during the 2020/21 season, partly due to weather challenges, as both excess and shortfall of rain negatively affected production in different areas of the country. The sector also experienced stiff price competition from crops such as soybeans, which led to fewer farmers growing cotton and, for those that grew it, more attention given to competing crops.

Following Zambia’s creation of a new Ministry of Green Economy in 2021, dissemination of weather and climate-related information has improved, with farmers now able to access timely information on weather through various online and offline media channels. Unfortunately, however, ongoing concerns over Covid-19 meant that farmer training in the field was severely impacted by government restrictions.

LDC works with a potential base of about 100,000 smallholder farmers, depending on weather, labor availability, the price of cotton, and the price of competing crops, among other factors. In the 2020/21 season LDC pre-financed production to 42,137 smallholder cotton farmers in the country, of whom 11,892 (approximately 28%) were female.

In Zambia, where we are actively expanding our operations, we promote sustainable cotton production and ginning as a member of the Zambia Cotton Ginners Association (ZCGA), the Cotton Board of Zambia (CBZ) and the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF). We also work on cotton seed development, testing, control and certification with partners such as the Cotton Development Trust (CDT), the Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI) and the Zambian government, represented by the Cotton Board of Zambia.

Traceability and Certification

LDC uses a distributor system to promote and monitor sustainable cotton production in Zambia. Locally selected distributors carry out activities for the company on a commission basis – purchasing and transporting cotton from smallholder farmers who have been engaged through training and monitoring.

The aim is to generate higher productivity and increased income for smallholders, while ensuring their cotton is produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. At the same time, farmers take part in needs assessments that LDC then uses to approach donors to fund projects helping accelerate rural development.

In 2021, our farmer network in the country continued producing certified/verified cotton following field and ginnery audits conducted by auditors recruited by AbTF. Certificates were issued to confirm the farmers were producing cotton according to CMiA and BCI standards.

Combating Climate Change

To help contribute to increased cotton production sustainably, LDC has committed to intensifying smallholder farmer training on best practices amid ongoing climate change.

With this goal, LDC is partnering with AbTF and CBZ on the implementation of CAR-iSMa – a pan-African learning and knowledge exchange project on improved soil management, climate adaptation and resilience. Through this project, LDC will monitor and evaluate adoption of better soil improvement practices, such as composting, use of cover crops in cotton production and other good agricultural practices (GAPs). Intensive farmer training began in late 2021 and will run until 2024, when results will be reviewed.

Our team in Zambia also helped reduce carbon emissions from our cotton operations in the country by 13% year on year. Although this is partly attributable to the relatively small crop recorded in 2021, it was also the result of more sustainable use of energy across our assets and operations in the country.

Responsible Pesticide Use

LDC was the first company to respond to farmer concern about an increased resistance to insecticide from pests, in particular bollworm. Working with CBZ, and building on our work started in 2020, we continued to introduce new combinations of chemicals that successfully break pest resistance and increase yields, while avoiding harm to the environment.

Others are now following suit to help achieve the common objective of increased sustainable cotton production and profitability, and a new ruling compels all cotton producers/ginners to procure inputs from suppliers whose chemicals have been tested and approved by CBZ, ensuring effective quality inputs are supplied to farmers throughout the country.

Technology for Sustainability

In 2021, LDC opened discussions with software developers BanQu to help improve supply chain transparency in Zambia. BanQu’s fully digitalized and secure non-crypto blockchain platform has the capability to provide complete visibility across our cotton supply chain. Once implemented, this solution will replace paper-based, error-prone process at lower tiers, ultimately enhancing trust and clarity for cotton transactions for all supply chain stakeholders, including farmers.


Increase our BCI Kazakhstan partnership to 700 farmers

Completion: 2021

Status: Missed

Take individual membership of the ILO’s Child Labour Platform

Completion: 2021

Status: Delayed

Increase Better Cotton purchased over previous year by 10%

Completion: 2020-2023

Status: Complete for 2021

Purchase 50% more Better Cotton than in 2018

Completion: 2023

Status: Complete*

* Ahead of time

New Targets

Take individual membership of the ILO’s Child Labour Platform

Completion: 2022

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