Five questions for Alison Ward, CEO, CottonConnect

Ahmad Kadiwaz
1) What does CottonConnect do, and what's your job? What does a typical week look like for you?

I am the CEO of CottonConnect and joined the business around three months ago. 

CottonConnectis a social enterprise which was set-up to create a more sustainable cotton sector.  Our vision is a cotton supply chain that works for everyone from farmers to brands and retailers.   

We want brands to fully understand their supply chain and for farmers to have better environmental and working conditions. 

I am proud to have joined a team which has already delivered great results: a 15% reduction in pesticide and water used; and a programme which also increases in farmer income. 

I recently met Ahmad Kadiwaz a cotton farmer from Morbi, Gujarat; he has installed drip irrigation on his farm.  His yields are 50% higher, and he was the first farmer in the village to do this and now 70% of the village has adopted drip irrigation.  It’s great to see the impact knowledge and simple technologies can have.

We are currently focus looking at innovative business opportunities for the future including water offsetting, eco-system services and ‘last mile marketing’. 

2) Where are we on sustainable cotton? Are there differing standards, proliferation, or general agreement?

While there are a number of differing standards, I think we all recognize that we have collaborate if we are truly to achieve scale. 

3) Organic cotton is lovely, but unrealistic at scale, is that a correct statement?

We are just looking at the future opportunities for organic cotton.  There is a growth in consumer demand for organic fibre and from brands, but there is a decline in volumes from farmers.  So as a sector we really need to demonstrate the business case for farmers. 

I met a great pioneering couple in Mohankot, Madhya Pradesh named Tarcila & Raphael Bhuria. They run an organic farm and are teaching other farmers about organic farming. I saw some of their pesticides made from chilli and garlic which really seem to work; and fertilizer made from cow urine. I really think there is a lot we can learn from traditional knowledge. 

4) What are your plans for 2014 and beyond?

At CottonConnect we have a great model which is really delivering results.  And I want to encourage more brands and businesses to buy the cottons that our farmers are producing.I also have a personal goal, which is to involve more women in our training. It would be great to catch up with your blog later this year and update you on our progress.
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