Making orchards glow with sustainable cotton farming

What happens when you break the cycle of debt in farming? Magic happens.

“...We used to purchase fertilizers on credit and once the crop is harvested, all the money would go into repaying the loan. From the time we started making our own organic fertilizers, our expenses have decreased and we are able to save money.”

That’s what one woman in India says about her experience working with CARE on sustainable cotton farming.

What happens when you break the cycle of debt in farming? Magic happens. Women see higher profits--$32 more per acre, a 20% increase from before. They are also 55% more likely to have power in community decisions, and 15 times more likely to feel confident in their own leadership abilities. And they're fighting climate change.

The project’s nickname is Sufalam, which means “the orchard glows.” Find out more about how women in India made their orchards glow.

From 2018-2021, CARE India ran the Environmentally Sound and Climate Resilient Cotton Production Practices project with $370,000 from Group Galleries Lafayette. They reached 1,511 women farmers directly and 8,181 indirectly. 77% of people were satisfied with CARE’s services.

What changed?

  • Farmers are saving water and taking care of the environment. Farmers are 4.8 times more likely to be using water-saving techniques on their fields. 64% of them are using fewer chemical than they did before.
  • Women make more money. Farmers saw a 20% increase in their profit on cotton--$32 more per acre than before the project. 3 times more people say they have high productivity, and 23% said their soil fertility went up. That went up to 47% for farmers who had demonstration plots.
  • Female farmers are more confident in their leadership skills. 75% of farmers say they have moderate or good leadership skills, compared to 5% before the project started. For farmers who ran demonstration plots, that was 2.8 times higher than those who didn’t. 49% say they have good problem-solving skills.
  • Farmers are working together. Farmers are 41% more likely to use collective bargaining to improve their market and sales. They are 10% more likely to share information with their peers.
  • Women can influence decisions. Women farmers in the project are 55% more likely to be involved in community decisions, and 53% more likely to influence family financial decisions.
  • Financial services went up. Women are twice as likely to have bank accounts. They are also more likely to access government services.
  • People knew more about sustainable production. 52% of farmers know sustainable cotton practices (compared to 0 when the project started). They are 4 times more likely to know how to use pesticides and fertilizers without damaging soil, and 2.4 times more likely to understand about climate impacts.

How did it happen?

  • Lower risks for farmers. The project established a risk fund for farmers of $135 per acre to make sure that if they switched to new practices and lost money they wouldn’t lose all of their income. That made it easier and safer for farmers to try something new.
  • Be flexible. The risk fund eventually switched to help farmers buy PPE, connect to information about COVID-19, and sanitize wells to prevent COVID. It also helped people buy vegetable seeds when COVID drove up food prices in the market by 40%.
  • Connect women to each other. Working with 53 Self Help and/or Savings Groups, the project focused on leadership and literacy for 539 members. Those groups saved $9,714 ($18 per member), and gave out $2,558 in loans. $18 per member may not seem like a lot, but it’s nearly 10% of the profit women were making on each acre of their own land—a pretty substantial increase. They also helped connect farmers groups and productions groups to each other and to other groups.
  • Help women get skills they value. The Self Help Groups also served as a foundation for 58% of participants to get financial literacy training, and 68% to connect to information about equal decision making. 28% of female farmers said they got training on stress management.
  • Support and embrace local markets. The project worked with local seed providers (like the Punjabrao Krishi Vidya Peeth and Maharudra Agriculture Institute) to source indigenous certified seeds. They also worked with the Pani (Water) Foundation and the Krishi Vigyan Kendra Center for soil testing to help farmers sustainably access local services.
  • Work with local leaders. The project worked with local leaders to host more than 45 awareness raising sessions and 20 gender equality dialogues to make sure women didn’t just get skills, they also got the support they needed to implement new practices.

Want to learn more?

Check out the evaluation.