Cotton is a major world commodity, accounting for almost half of textile production. Traditional cotton farming is hard on the environment, however, as pesticide and artificial fertilizer use is heavy.
The crop accounts for 10 percent of global pesticide use and is grown in about 80 countries around the world. Cotton also needs much water: An average of 10,000 liters of water is used to grow 1 kilogram of cotton, but it can require three times as much if farming practices are poor. However, through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) farmers are reducing their pesticide, artificial fertilizer and water use.
In 2005, Ikea and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) started joint cotton projects, and both are founding members of the BCI. The purpose of the initiative is to develop more sustainable cotton production methods.
BCI started with just 500 farmers and a goal to develop more sustainable cotton production methods. Now, through BCI and its partners, 43,000 farmers in India and Pakistan alone are using more sustainable cotton farming techniques, as the latest BCI report shows. Project farmers in Pakistan were the first in the world to produce licensed Better Cotton.
Several case studies show how working with BCI helps farmers. One case study looked at a farmer in India’s Godavari river basin who has a 28-acre farm. Through working with BCI and using more sustainable methods, his income has improved. He uses drip irrigation for 14 acres of cotton, which saves water. He grows vegetables between his cotton plants which means less weeding needs to be done. He has also cut down on pesticide use. Another case study looks at a farmer in India’s Jaina district, whose crop yield has doubled and costs have halved since linking up with BCI.
The BCI report predicts that Better Cotton, cotton produced and licensed according to BCI criteria, could become a “mainstream global commodity before 2020.” The goal is to make Better Cotton 30 percent of global cotton production by 2020, which would mean working with 5 million farmers around the world. In order to achieve that goal, much more quantities of Better Cotton will need to be produced in China, the biggest producer and consumer of cotton, the report concludes. The U.S. will also need to ramp up production, as it is the biggest exporter of cotton.
The challenge for Better Cotton is to not become a premium-price commodity as that would counteract the initiatives to make it mainstream.
As of March 15, 2014, almost 57,000 tons of licensed Better Cotton lint, mostly from Pakistan and Africa, had been purchased -- or 50 percent of the estimated need for 2013. To put that in perspective, the share of cotton from more sustainable sources in Ikea products was only 34 percent in 2012.
Cotton is an important commodity for Ikea as it is used on many of its products, from duvet covers to table cloths. Every year, Ikea uses about 0.6 percent of all cotton grown, and 110,000 tons was used in 2013.
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Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.