© WWF-Pakistan

Better Cotton

The cotton industry employs millions of people and meets a basic, vital need—clothing. But with water sources running dry in some grower countries, it’s more important than never for the industry to transform the way it operates. The good news: a movement is under way to make this happen, with you.

A ‘footprint’ that cannot be ignored

Cotton is one of the crops that is most in demand. It’s also one of the thirstiest.
8,000 L Amount of water needed to produce a single pair of jeans (find out more)

Moreover, cotton farming uses more pesticides than other crops – which pollute water supplies.
16% Percentage of pesticides used globally for cotton (2.5% of the world's cultivated land), more than any other single major crop Source: EJF. (2007). The deadly chemicals in cotton. Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network

► Read more why the cotton industry needs to minimise its environmental impact

The stress cotton puts on water supplies isn’t sustainable – for the cotton industry, people, wildlife or ecosystems.

Our approach

WWF is putting several solutions into practice to ease the strain.

We helped start the Better Cotton Initiative in 2005 to reduce the amount of water and chemicals used to grow cotton – and to improve the lives and livelihoods of cotton farmers worldwide.


WWF Targets

2020: 25% of cotton produced for the global market meets Better Cotton Initiative principles and criteria


3.77%: of global cotton is Better Cotton (August 2015)

We’re working on many other projects worldwide to improve cotton production and protect freshwater too.

► Read more about WWF’s work on better cotton
How can we move production to more sustainable practices? Find out about WWF's Market Transformation Initiative ►

Better Production for a Living Planet

	© WWF

The Better Cotton Initiative has a big vision – to change the way cotton is grown everywhere. Levi’s shares that vision. We’re very appreciative of WWF’s pioneering work with cotton farmers in Pakistan, and support it financially and through our procurement practices. We’re very excited that better cotton will soon be finding its way into Levi’s jeans.

Michael Kobori, Vice-President, Social and Environmental Sustainability, Levi Strauss & Co


What makes the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) so enticing is its' promise as a low-cost "traceability" system with wide support from the cotton industry. Farmers who have put in practice the production standards of the BCI are able to feel the impacts in a very tangible way. In Pakistan for example, participating farmers have boosted their incomes by 15% on average by reducing water (by up to a third) and chemical use. Read more...
The trickle-down impacts of better farming are also beneficial to the mostly female cotton pickers, who are less exposed to hazardous chemicals. Such is the level of interest in the BCI that some countries such as Mozambique and China are planning to embed the BCI standards nationally.
Find out about other commodities we work on

Case Study: How better cotton can save rivers and lives

	© Richard Vincent / WWF
Rajita Nandsee (cotton)
© Richard Vincent / WWF
Cotton couldn’t be more vital to Pakistan’s economy – it makes up 55% of exports. But vast amounts of water are sucked from rivers like the Indus (97% to be exact) to irrigate cotton fields. Falling water levels leave millions of people and wildlife without enough to drink and wash, and threaten freshwater ecosystems.

More sustainability, more income

The Better Cotton Initiative is turning these problems around, helping farmers use less water and chemicals – and increasing their income at the same time.


Elsewhere, there are also tangible incomes. In 2012, the following were observed:
  • BCI farmers in Pakistan enjoyed a 14% higher yield
  • there was 19% less water use in China
  • 22% increase in use of organic fertilizer in Mali
  • 14% less pesticide use for large farms in Brazil
  • 32% higher profitability for Better Cotton farmers in India.


  • Cotton is the highest user of pesticides globally. Annually, across all agricultural sectors, about 20,000 deaths are associated with pesticide poisoning.
  • Cotton production can also be associated with child labour, debt bondage, soil degradation, agrochemical use, and high water use.

Cotton is used by nearly every consumer on the planet and accounts for at least 40% of all textiles.
  • The Better Cotton model can work as the mainstream solution for sustainability in the cotton sector globally.
  • Farmers who produce Better Cotton commit to achieving principles which support poverty alleviation and/or environmental protection.
  • By cutting the costs and reducing ‘inputs’ (agrochemicals and water), growing Better Cotton leaves farmers with greater profit.
  • Better soil quality and reduced water use from growing Better Cotton allows for growth of food crops.

Be part of the solution

► If you are a cotton producer, supplier, manufacturer, retailer or brand, then the Better Cotton Initiative can help you support a more sustainable cotton industry: Find out more on the Better Cotton Initiative website

► If you are concerned about the environmental and social impact of the cotton products that you buy—that’s clothes and linen among other—contact your favourite clothing companies and ask them if they’re part of the Better Cotton Initiative.
	© BCI
    The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in, and better for the sector’s future.


Priority Countries

  • Production
    China, India, USA, Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan

    China, India, EU, USA

    Present focal regions
    India, Pakistan, West and Central Africa, Brazil


  • Demand drivers
    Income, population, consumption

    Future focus for success
    BCI will focus on Pakistan, India, Brazil, and West and Central Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and Togo). BCI will also support the development of better cotton in China and Central Asia.

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