Breakthrough Moments

A new stage is set for the organic cotton sector

Breakthrough Moments: A new stage is set for the organic cotton sector

The year 2018 marked a turning point in our efforts to boost the production of organic cotton in India, with early signs that our approach is working and vital recognition from government.

Our sustainable cotton programme started five years ago with capacity building and farmer training in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where 24% of the world’s organic cotton is produced. During this time we learned more about the systemic issues holding the organic cotton market back, including: limited seed integrity and availability, inadequate economic incentives, lack of supporting government regulations and poor industry coordination.

For farmers to thrive, we needed to move beyond farmer training and catalyse a shift in the structures underpinning the system. We needed to bring players from the whole supply chain together – farmers, industry, state government, brands, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society, consumers – to think and act collectively.

The interlinked elements of our strategy

So we developed a more holistic approach to mainstreaming sustainable cotton in Madhya Pradesh. Firstly, we supported our partners by helping to build the socio-economic case for sustainable cotton for farmers, improving training and education, and supporting women farmers. Secondly, we started to build the sector, strengthen industry cooperation and bolster the institutions that support sustainable cotton. And thirdly, we focused on shifting the regulatory environment in order to create policy that supports sustainable cotton.

Our Cotton Trailblazers event in May 2018 was a celebration – and a breakthrough moment – that showed our approach was starting to work. The event both acknowledged how far the sector has come and helped progress the conversation among all actors. It marked even closer engagement between brands and farm groups and more open dialogue between all stakeholders. And, crucially, it showed commitment from an increasingly receptive government of Madhya Pradesh.

As well as expressing their pride at the State’s achievements, its government representatives announced their intention to create dedicated organic clusters in five districts. This will help farmers to coordinate their efforts and access benefits like training and financial assistance. Additionally, the Madhya Pradesh government officially approved India’s first dedicated Centre of Excellence for organic cotton research.

The event also enabled all voices to be heard. Thirty organic cotton farmers articulated their challenges in person, on stage, so that brands could really understand where they were coming from, empathise with their efforts and appreciate their hard work. And global brands – whose presence reinforced the strong and growing demand for organic cotton – were able to express concerns around visibility and traceability, while making connections to source directly from farmer groups.

Cotton Trailblazers has planted the seeds for further success in Madhya Pradesh and more widely in India. And we have started to replicate our approach in other Indian states, to put sustainable cotton on the national agenda.

We strongly believe that these steps would be key enablers in overcoming the barriers to organic cotton cultivation, addressing agricultural concerns for farmers in a sustainable manner.

Dr Rajesh Rajora | HonoUrable Principal Secretary, Department of Farmer Welfare & Agriculture Development,
Government of Madhya Pradesh

Numbers from the organic programme in 
Madhya Pradesh:


increase in farmer incomes

compared to conventional cotton farmers in 2018-19 season 

We reach




Mt (Lint)

The volume of organic / in conversion cotton produced in MP

Cotton Trailblazers attendees



that source 60% of all organic cotton








Eileen Fisher

Tchibo GmBh



connected to more than 2 million farmers

Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India)

Action for Social Advancement

Better Cotton Initiative


Fairtrade Foundation

Forum for the Future

Global Development Incubator

IDH - The Sustainable Trade Initiative

Organic Cotton Accelerator 







Women on Wings

WWF - India