Sustainability and Value Added in the Cotton Economy

Project description

Title: Sustainability and Value Added in the Cotton Economy
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India, Uzbekistan
Overall term: 2019 to 2023


Worldwide, 26 million tonnes of cotton with a value of 44 billion euros are produced each year. More than 100 million farmers in more than 80 countries work in cotton production. Just under 75 per cent of small farmers with an average farm size of between two and four hectares work in cotton growing, often in remote rural regions. Cotton is one of the most important raw materials in the textile and garment industry.

The price for raw cotton is determined on the New York Stock Exchange and is subject to substantial fluctuation. It has a great impact on the wellbeing of many small-scale farms worldwide. For many production countries, cotton is a significant source of export revenue. However, these countries – especially those in Africa – largely only export raw cotton as they lack the necessary textile and garment industry structures to process it further. 

The economic development of many partner countries of German bilateral cooperation thus depends on efficient agriculture. Here, cotton is key to rural development in many places. At the same time, its successful agricultural cultivation is no guarantee of economic development. The added value gained from sustainable cotton is insufficient in the partner countries.

Moreover, cotton growing brings with it environmental, economic and social challenges, ranging from improper use of pesticides, fluctuating yields and high input costs to child labour and forced labour. The extensive use of irrigation and plant protection products is considered problematic.


In the partner countries of the global programme, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India and Uzbekistan, the added value gained from sustainable cotton has increased. Moreover, the incomes of cotton farmers have improved. Additional jobs have been created in the countries in both the production and further processing of sustainable cotton. 


On a global scale, existing platforms such as the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) are being integrated, especially with a view to international strategies for increasing sustainability and good governance in the cotton industry. Civil society organisations, predominantly voluntary sustainability standards such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and Fairtrade, and representatives of relevant organic standards, play a pivotal role in implementation locally in the partner countries. A particular emphasis is placed on close cooperation with the private sector as well as on using, further developing and disseminating digital solutions, in particular to establish transparency in sustainable supply chains.

Smallholder households are trained to achieve sustainable cultivation practices and fulfil international standards. This includes Farmer Business Schools and technical training modules. In India, for example, BCI is training 140,000 small farmers in sustainable cultivation methods.

Advisory services are making increasing use of digital offerings and platforms. In cooperation with ICAC, the development of virtual reality (VR) training sessions is allowing farmers around the globe to experience sustainable cotton growing with VR glasses.

User-oriented services ensure that a target group-specific and gender-differentiated approach is taken in capacity development measures. A particular emphasis here is placed on integrating women and young adults.