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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Bottrill

Launching our Biodiversity Knowledge Partner Fund project with Better Cotton

Fashion’s impact on climate, land, and livelihoods is immense. Responsible for 1 Giga tonne of CO2e annually, 24% of this impact is at the farm level where raw materials are grown and cultivated for clothing (WRI 2021). A changing climate along with intensive agricultural practices have caused a steep decline in biodiversity, soil health, and as a result resilience on farmland. This is true for cotton, the world’s most used natural fibre and a global cash crop. Building a cotton farming system that is supportive of both land and people is imperative as the world tries to address the climate and nature crisis.

A Better Cotton farm in Multan, Pakistan.

The 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity reached an agreement to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and water by 2030. Achieving this will require changes to management of agricultural land, which accounts for 38% of global land surface (UN FAO 2020). The Science Based Targets for Nature provide guidance on targets organisations can make to ensure they do their part to protect and enhance nature throughout their supply chains.

With a focus on the farm level, for nearly 20 years Better Cotton has been working with what has grown to 2.5 million cotton farmers globally to implement environmentally and socially responsible farming practices. In recognition that we are in a climate and ecological emergency, and that meeting this emergency necessitates a just transition, Better Cotton is increasing the ambition for ensuring cotton production is part of the answer not part of the problem. In early 2023 they released the third iteration of their standard principles and criteria, which cover six key categories: crop protection, sustainable livelihoods, natural resources, decent work, management, and fibre quality.

A guided blindfolded tent building exercise at the kickoff workshop meant

to build trust and collaboration between the partner organisations.

Biodiversity is a core component of the natural resources principle, and Better Cotton have developed three priorities for biodiversity: land degradation, high conservation value areas, and riparian zones (where land interfaces with rivers or streams). To support Better Cotton on developing and implementing a model for addressing these priorities on the farm level, Pilio and our partner SAMA^Verte have been selected to lead a multi-year Global Innovation Fund project as a Biodiversity Knowledge Partner.

The Pilio team have recently returned from Lahore, Pakistan, where we held a kickoff workshop for the project with partner SAMA^Verte in collaboration with WWF Pakistan and Better Cotton. Our project will focus on Pakistan, where Better Cotton have nearly 500,000 licensed farmers. Pakistan is the sixth largest producer of cotton globally, mainly grown at smallholder farms.

The Pilio, SAMA^Verte, WWF Pakistan, and Better Cotton teams

at the May 2023 kickoff workshop in Lahore, Pakistan.

Like the rest of the world Pakistan is facing a significant decline in biodiversity, which threatens the health of ecosystems. Pakistan is already experiencing visible climate change which is causing shifts in where cotton can be cultivated and adversely impacting many of the rural communities living in the region.

Building the resilience of this cotton growing region requires the accelerated adoption of sustainable farming practices which will create space for nature through the avoidance of applying chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides which all have a knock-on negative impact on biodiversity. Protecting biodiversity in cotton growing landscapes will result in the ecological resilience of fibre production by improving soil health, supporting pollinators, and providing habitat niches for beneficial species to flourish.

An exercise at the inception workshop aimed at building

a collaborative understanding and approach.

To deliver on Better Cotton’s biodiversity priorities requires a development of new models of implementation. Pilio have developed a learning model to ensure practices that benefit farmland and are feasible for farmers. Our project will follow a “window of vitality” framework wherein biodiversity enhancement is in balance with the needs of cotton grower livelihoods. Pilio recognises the need to develop learning models that enable new ways of working, bringing in diverse stakeholders and data sets to find these “windows of vitality.” Our approach to this project is inclusive, working alongside farmers, scientists, and Better Cotton to jointly set priorities and run experiments.

“The project proposed by Pilio and SAMA^Verte will address biodiversity loss in Pakistan. The Fund was particularly attracted by the project’s innovative approach for creating a model for the development and implementation of biodiversity enhancement plans involving the whole community, rather than just farmers; its thoughtful design, in terms of creating opportunities to incorporate learnings at many points throughout the project; and the project team itself, a great blend of researchers and people who have a deep understanding of the project context.” - Cristina Martin Cuadrado, Programme Manager, Better Cotton.

The May workshop marked the launch of this multi-year project, convening the organisations involved to build collaboration and set priorities. Over the next three years we will develop a learning model for nature recovery taking into consideration the specific needs of the cotton growing region in Pakistan while building in ability to scale across cotton growing landscapes of the Punjab and beyond. The model will be built around our conceptual framework:

We’ll be sharing updates on progress and learnings here on our blog, so make sure to check back in! In the meantime, read more about our project and conceptual framework on our Better Cotton project page.

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