Cotton’s Sustainable Networks

Amid a challenging global context, Solidaridad's cotton programme has been consolidated in nine key production countries (China, India, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, Senegal, Mali and Ghana), while also expanding to Ethiopia and South Africa. These last two countries offer new perspectives with the possibility to connect with the growing textiles industry in Ethiopia and domestic brands and retailers in South Africa.

Number of farmers and workers supported


Total hectares under sustainable management



In India, the focus continued to be on promoting good agricultural practices, in particular with regards to water conservation and soil management within the framework of the Better Cotton Initiative standard.

The Southern Africa Partnership for Sustainable Cotton and Food Security (SAPSCAF) project has gained momentum in scaling up both in Zambia (8,112 farmers) and Mozambique (8,867 farmers).

In Ethiopia, while we conducted a scoping study to better understand the sustainability situation of the cotton sector, we partnered with PAN Ethiopia and started working toward organic cotton production for the first year with smallholders and two large farms.

At the policy level, 2015 has seen some notable successes. For example, Solidaridad is building on a successful two-year pilot project aimed at introducing smart and sustainable land use planning for soy and cotton production in northern Ghana. Solidaridad has also been invited to partner with the newly established governmental Cotton Development Authority to develop a national strategy for reviving the cotton sector in Ghana.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • East & Central Africa

    From just a small organic project in Tanzania in 2011, Solidaridad has grown its cotton portfolio to include Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. By the close of the year, a total of 10,800 smallholders had been reached. Sustainable production principles have since been entrenched in the national cotton policies through working with leading organizations like TechnoServe, Uganda, Fibre Crops Directorate - Kenya and Ethiopian Cotton Producers, Ginners and Exporters Association and H&M.

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  • The Netherlands

    While the growth in production of more sustainable cotton is eminent, the uptake by retailers and brands is lagging behind. During 2015, Solidaridad raised awareness in the cotton and textile sectors to ensure sourcing is aligned with production.

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  • North America

    Solidaridad partnered with the Walmart Foundation to build upon a Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) training programme in China to address the needs of women farmers; primarily in leadership development and community mobilization. The project increased the participation of women in Solidaridad China’s ongoing BCI projects by 45%.

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  • South & South-east Asia

    Projects being implemented at Solidaridad South & South-East Asia cover a variety of agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions. Partner experiences in implementing Better Cotton projects provide a rich source of knowledge that can inform future strategies for implementing farm-based interventions with smallholder cotton farmers.

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  • Southern Africa

    Although the current drought in Southern Africa has a negative effect on the production of cotton, Solidaridad and its partners are expanding Better Cotton production to South Africa. In Mozambique, the focus is now on increasing yields by grouping farmers in clusters with better support systems.

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Cotton farming contributes to the livelihoods of millions of people in about 80 countries across the world. Production is dominated by India and China who harvest about 50% of the world’s cotton each year. Cotton remains, however, a key cash crop for smallholder farmers elsewhere, especially in Africa.

The year in review (2015) has been a tough year for the cotton sector with world cotton production estimated to decline by 15% compared to the previous season. Globally, cotton planted area decreased by 8% because low cotton prices discouraged farmers from planting cotton. In many countries, in particular in East and Southern Africa, adverse weather conditions also led to yields decreasing by 7% worldwide.

The topic of sustainability in the cotton sector continued to gain momentum, notably with the publication of a promising framework for Measuring Sustainability in Cotton Farming Systems. The supply of sustainable cotton has also been estimated to have reached an all-time high, passing the symbolic bar of 10% of world production. On the demand side, leading companies like H&M continued to demonstrate a strong commitment to increasing their use of sustainable cotton.

Programme investments in thousand euros


Contracted partners per region excluding producer organizations



In 2015, Solidaridad partnered with a variety of organizations in the cotton supply chain and sector at large, including:

  • Cotton producer organizations
  • Cotton ginning and trading companies
  • Government cotton authorities
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Retailers and brands

We also remained an active member of the Better Cotton Initiative and in dialogue with other relevant sector sustainability organizations.

For example, in our Better Cotton project in the province of Hebei, China, we partnered not only with the Bureau of Agriculture of the Ju-Lu County to train smallholders and a large farm (Baoding Shuofeng Agri-products Co. Ltd), but also with a spinning mill (Hebei Xindadong Textiles Printing & Dying Co. Ltd) and VF Corporation to ensure uptake of the cotton produced.

Solidaridad’s funding partners in 2015 included:

  • Dutch National Bank (De Nederlandsche Bank, DNB)
  • Dioraphte Foundation
  • GSRD Foundation
  • Walmart foundation
  • Better Cotton Fast Track Programme
  • Rabobank foundation
  • Solidaridad Farmer Support Program (co-funded by the Public-Private Partnership facility DGIS of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, RVO) of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs


Global cotton prices remain low as the 2016/17 season starts. In this context, it remains even more crucial to keep putting farmers at the centre of the programme, while working toward mainstreaming sustainability in the cotton sector. This requires both locally adapted solutions to the many different contexts in which cotton is grown as well as increased motivation to build market recognition for the efforts of farmers who are producing cotton sustainably.

In 2016, Solidaridad will be working at both ends of the supply chain to connect sustainable cotton farmers with off-takers in our field projects, while also encouraging brands and retailers to increase their uptake of sustainable cotton.

Isabelle Roger

International Programme Coordinator, Cotton