The Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF), renowned for its cotton standards, Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA) and Cotton made in Africa Organic, has expanded its portfolio with the introduction of the Regenerative Cotton Standard (RCS). This innovative standard offers a comprehensive approach to addressing the growing challenges in the cotton and textile industry, benefiting both textile companies and cotton farmers.
The Regenerative Cotton Standard aims to enhance the resilience of smallholder farmers against the impacts of climate change and provides a future-proof solution for cotton production, a vital raw material for the textile industry. We interviewed Tina Stridde, the managing director of the Aid by Trade Foundation, to gain more insights into this new standard and its potential impact.
The Regenerative Cotton Standard (RCS) is accessible to both existing and new partners. Existing CmiA-certified cotton companies have the option to incorporate the RCS and adapt their practices and smallholder farmers accordingly. New cotton companies, previously unaffiliated with CmiA, can initiate the Regenerative Cotton Standard for the first time and work towards obtaining the necessary certification.
Engagement with Smallholder Farmers
Smallholder farmers play a pivotal role in the implementation of the RCS. Consultations are conducted within each farming community where RCS is to be introduced. These discussions help smallholders familiarize themselves with regenerative agriculture and identify the challenges they face, including those related to climate change. A collaborative analysis and prioritization process involves smallholder farmers, defining the most crucial RCS criteria for both the managing entity and the farmers.
This process provides clarity on immediate actions and criteria for which cotton companies must transparently report on their progress. The experience and knowledge of smallholder farmers are integrated into the development of implementation strategies and training initiatives. They offer invaluable insights into local conditions and practices, enabling more effective planning.
The RCS encompasses ten key principles, including enhancing smallholder farmer resilience to climate change, soil health restoration, climate protection, and animal welfare. Implementing these principles involves context-specific practices. These practices may include composting, tree planting, biochar production, mixed crop rotation, and rainwater retention techniques, all aimed at increasing soil health and the resilience of smallholder farmers against crop failures.
In cases where smallholder farmers keep livestock, their animals are encouraged to graze in fields during non-crop periods. Efforts are also made to identify and manage foreign invasive species that displace native plant and animal species.
The RCS maintains strict guidelines for pesticide use, with a focus on transitioning to biological pesticides. Diversification measures and the promotion of beneficial organisms are introduced to balance pest control in cotton and other crops. For fertilizers, smallholder farmers are encouraged to use natural and organic sources, such as manure, composted cotton residues, and legumes, promoting soil health and reducing dependence on external fertilizers.
Labeling RCS Products
Products containing certified RCS cotton are identified by the Regenerative Cotton Standard label. Only authorized contractual partners can use RCS-certified cotton and label their products accordingly. By purchasing these labeled products, consumers contribute to positive change in the fashion industry, as the Regenerative Cotton Standard supports smallholder farming, enhances soil health, benefits rural communities, protects the biosphere, and improves the well-being of farm animals.