Primark is scaling up a sustainable cotton scheme as the discount fashion retailer looks to recruit a further 10,000 female smallholder farmers in India onto the programme. Primark has trained 1,251 female smallholders through its partnership with CottonConnect. The initiative, which is being run in partnership with CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), will be extended by a further six years. It is designed to support women from traditionally male-dominated farming communities in Gujarat, India, to introduce sustainable farming methods, improve cotton yields and increase incomes. According to Primark, the three-year pilot has already trained 1,251 female smallholders. By year two of the trial, female farmers recorded an average profit increase of 211%, an average yield increase of 12.6%, and a reduction of input costs by 5%. In addition, the programme has encouraged adoption of more sustainable farming methods – including a 13.5% reduction of fertiliser usage, a 53.5% reduction of pesticide usage, & a water usage decrease of 12.9%.
According to Paul Lister, who is responsible for Primark's ethical trading team, the company wanted to develop a project that would not only improve sustainable cotton production, but make a meaningful difference for cotton farmers. "We believe that partnership holds the key to delivering change in developing countries such as India, which is why we approached SEWA and introduced them to sustainable agricultural experts, CottonConnect," said Lister. "The results have exceeded all our expectations and I'm delighted that we'll have the opportunity to reach a further 10,000 female farmers over the next six years." CottonConnect's chief executive Alison Ward said the initiative was tackling some of the challenges faced in achieving gender equality across farming communities. "We find that women do not attend mixed training sessions when they're delivered, so the knowledge that this programme has brought them will go a long way to building a better life for them and their families in the future. It's also great to see how proud their husbands are of their work." Last October, Primark joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, in a bid to strengthen its commitments on supply chain sustainability.