Better Cotton Conference 2024 calls for “collective action”

The Better Cotton conference, which concluded on 27 June was held in Istanbul, which is a key hub for cotton production and attracted over 400 participants from around the world, both in-person and virtually.

Better Cotton CEO Alan McClay summarised the event’s impact, stating: “This year’s Better Cotton Conference highlighted the crucial need for collective action in the cotton industry. The insights and stories shared over these two days emphasise that empowering farmers and integrating innovative practices are essential for a sustainable future. Our commitment remains steadfast in driving positive change for cotton communities worldwide.”

Farmer empowerment takes centre stage

The first day kicked off with a focus on putting people first, underscoring Better Cotton’s commitment to improving the lives of farmers and farm workers.

Aarti Kapoor, founder and executive director of human rights agency Embode delivered a keynote on the role individuals can play in driving positive changes across supply chains.

Lars Van Doremalen, impact director at Better Cotton presented insights from a comprehensive study conducted in India, highlighting strategies to boost farmer income, while Leyla Shamchiyeva, senior decent work manager at Better Cotton, discussed the importance of addressing root causes of poverty and rights awareness by connecting communities to social safety nets.

Nazia Parveen, a Pakistani farmer shared her journey of overcoming community barriers and the need for women’s empowerment in agriculture, advocating for equal opportunities to support themselves and their families.

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Field-level innovations

The conference sessions transitioned to driving change at field level, covering topics from regenerative agriculture to the role of fertilisers in a warming climate.

A panel featuring Laila Petrie of 2050 and Gray Maguire of environmental services company Anthesis, moderated by Lewis Perkins of the Apparel Impact Institute, explored the complexities of carbon markets and their implications for farmers. The Unlock Project was highlighted as a case study demonstrating the importance of supply chain investment.

Field representatives from India, Tajikistan and the US shared their experiences with regenerative practices, providing insights into field-level advancements in both large and small farming operations.

The second day of the conference shifted its focus to understanding policy and industry trends. Vidhura Ralapanawe, executive vice president for innovation and sustainability at Epic Group delivered a keynote urging the cotton industry to seek transformative changes that go beyond legislative compliance.

Throughout the day speakers emphasised the importance of involving all stakeholders, particularly farmers and suppliers, in policy-making processes. Speakers advocated for legislation that benefits smallholder farmers globally by ensuring that those most affected are included in the discussions.

Advancing data and traceability

Concluding the conference, sessions on reporting on data and traceability explored how technology can streamline supply chains and enhance transparency. Jacky Broomhead, Better Cotton’s director of traceability led discussions on how AI and automation can improve efficiency and support net-zero strategies.

The panel stressed the need for simple traceability solutions to encourage widespread adoption and reduce the burden on farmers.

Tülin Akın, founder of Tabit Smart Farming shared success stories of how agricultural technologies address rural challenges while emphasising the value of direct interactions with farmers.

The day ended with a session on Pakistan’s First Mile Traceability pilot, moderated by Hina Fouzia, Better Cotton Pakistan’s director and highlighted the challenge of internet and technology access and Better Cotton’s role in facilitating its wider adoption.

In April Better Cotton announced it was being funded by the African Export-Import Bank to scale sustainable cotton production in West and Central Africa.

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