As part of the Cotton 2040 initiative’s Planning for Climate Adaptation workstream, climate two new studies were published describing the potential climate impacts to the cotton sector. The reports, one a global analysis of climate risks to cotton production in 2040, and the second a detailed climate risk and vulnerability assessment of cotton-growing regions in India, were launched alongside an interactive Climate Risk Explorer Tool. Together they are designed to help the industry take joined-up, informed and responsible action to build resilience to climate change.
In the light of the reports’ findings, we spoke with Hardeep Desai, Senior Director and Head of Farm Operations at CottonConnect South Asia, to get his reaction. CottonConnect is a social enterprise that works with retailers and brands to create business benefits by creating a more sustainable cotton supply chain. It is also a member of the Cotton 2040 Working Group.
Overall, how prepared are farmers for climate change?
The farmers enrolled in CottonConnect’s Sustainable Cotton programmes, such as the REEL Cotton Programme and Organic Cotton Programme, currently benefit from the educational and technical guidance provided by the CottonConnect team. As a result, they see positive results on their harvest with lesser use of pesticides, higher yield, saving water and turning around crop production as per weather suitability.
Farmers face the brunt of the harsh climatic conditions but don’t have a strong collective voice yet required to bring changes on an environmental level. While most farmers do not know that some of the challenges they face are due to climate change, many of them are aware of steps to be taken in their farms. For example, in case of excess rain and waterlogging issues, they focus on good farm drainage and remove the water from the farm as early as possible using labour and other equipment.
Some farmers know the solutions but do not have technical support or knowledge to implement them. Connecting farmers’ challenges with climate change initiatives and training and supporting them technically on climate-smart agriculture will hold the key. The farmers can foresee that the future will be tough, but the current focus also remains heavily driven on day-to-day sustenance.
Why and how will climate change impact women in particular? How do the findings from your study complement and support the Cotton 2040 analysis?
CottonConnect interviewed experts from five local partner organisations and conducted five focus group discussions, with around ten women farmers in each group, from REEL Cotton and Organic programmes, in India and Pakistan. As a result, we learned that climate change is already affecting all areas of women cotton farmers’ lives while they are on the farm or caring for their family or livestock or at home, which has a profound impact on their income, time and health.
These findings from our study complement and support the Cotton 2040 analysis. Both strongly indicate that the main climatic conditions will include acute water shortage, a higher number of days with increased temperature, average annual rainfall in fewer rainy days, prolonged dry spells between two rounds of rain affect the crop, thereby posing a threat to the livelihood of women farmers.
The Cotton 2040 analysis of the physical impacts of climate change on cotton production provides a valuable prediction for organisations working to impact the environment and women farmers positively.
How do these findings / your increased understanding of the climate impacts on the cotton sector impact your work? What’s most striking or relevant?
The changes in the climatic conditions will profoundly affect the farmers’ income, specifically in India and Pakistan, where agriculture and cotton crops play a crucial role in the countries’ economies. The economic impact will also deepen the labour-intensive farmers’ health issues who will continue to work manually in such extreme conditions.
CottonConnect will have to work much more closely with the farmers to educate and alleviate the changes in their livelihood in a much more focused manner backed by government laws, research and best practices. We will have to create climate-smart, climate-resilient farming communities that can understand the challenges caused by climate change on their farms and livelihoods and practice farming in a smart way. We want to partner with other organisations, too, who would like to support farmers in terms of technology and other interventions to address climate change issues.
How are you already working to build climate resilience, e.g., with female cotton producers?
To understand the practical impact of climate change on rural communities, CottonConnect conducted a scoping exercise, including interviews and focus group discussions, to identify areas for future research and action. The findings from this study illustrate the specific ways in which women cotton farmers are affected by climate change.
Additionally, we educate the women farmers to improve farm profitability, adapt their crop planning according to the changing climate cycle, and work on gender-specific training on sustainable and socially responsible agricultural practices.
How do you plan to use the results from the Cotton 2040 study to feed into your work, e.g. with producers and brands?
The results and suggestions from the Cotton 2040 study will be shared across the supply chain cycles and sustainable departments of the brands and forums with which CottonConnect works.
As a social organisation that focuses strongly on the farmers’ human, environmental and economic development and the brands it works with, we will work very closely with all our partners to reduce and minimise extreme weather events and temperature rise. We would also create a cadre of trained women as climate-smart change leaders who can work at the grassroots level and guide farming communities about climate change issues for a longer time period. These climate-smart leaders will act as a bridge between farmers and CottonConnect to bring change at the grassroots level. For this, we would be happy to collaborate with other agencies.
We will work on newer technological advancements and better farm management practices to improve irrigation systems. And work with government bodies and other national and global agencies to develop climate-smart agricultural research and interventions for long-term impact.