By working closely with the BCI Secretariat and drawing on existing HCV Network resources, we were able to develop a tailor-made solution for rapid biodiversity assessment, testing it out in the complex context of Indian cotton production.
The recently published IPBES Global Assessment highlights the contribution of the agriculture sector in causing severe biodiversity losses. For good reason there is a lot of attention on producer companies to do a better job at protecting biodiversity. Adopting the High Conservation Value Approach is one way to do this. But can we really expect the same from smallholder farmers? Just like any other farmer, smallholder farmers will make biodiversity-friendly decisions. For sustainability standards that set criteria to protect or restore biodiversity, the challenge is to have tools that work both for farmers and with their implementation and assurance systems. We have been working with Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to develop these tools, specifically with smallholder farmers in mind for their recently updated Better Cotton Standard.
The vast majority of BCI cotton producers are smallholder farmers. India alone has >400,000 licensed BCI Farmers, each cultivating cotton on small plots of land of just a few hectares. Last year we collaborated with BCI to develop a simple risk-based High Conservation Value procedure. In the BCI context the HCV approach is applied when a farm plans to expand their cotton crop. But BCI still needed a tool to implement biodiversity management criteria for existing, non-expanding farms.
By working closely with the BCI Secretariat and drawing on existing HCV Network resources, we were able to develop a tailor-made solution for rapid biodiversity assessment, testing it out in the complex context of Indian cotton production. This started to produce demonstrable improvements in farming practices just as training is starting to get rolled out. We are thrilled by the positive response from the BCI Implementing Partners we met in India, to the biodiversity management tools. We are even more thrilled to contemplate what the cumulative benefits to biodiversity might be, resulting from changes made by individual farmers and farming communities, multiplied across a massive scale.
Developing the biodiversity management tool
The starting point to develop a tool for BCI was our existing Forest Integrity Assessment Tool (FIA). FIA is a simple forest monitoring tool that uses biodiversity indicators of forest integrity to assess forest condition and set restoration targets. It can be used by local communities for self-assessment and forest monitoring without extensive training, and as an approach was therefore ideally suited to BCI’s smallholder context. We took two basic FIA principles – biodiversity indicators and focal species – and adapted them to the agricultural context of cotton production. The result was a simple global procedure that guides farmers and farming communities to identify and map biological resources, set targets to improve biodiversity, and restore degraded habitats. Another FIA principle is local adaptation of the indicators, which also was incorporated into the BCI procedure. A BCI national adaptation process refines the tools, also providing the flexibility to link with existing biodiversity initiatives.
Once developed, earlier this year we began training on the tools in India as part of BCI’s cascade training model. This started by training the 40 BCI Implementing Partners. The intention then is for partners to cascade their learning and the tools to production managers in their regions, which in turn is transferred to field facilitators and the farmers themselves. A field test of the tools and cascade training model was organised in the Jalna District, where WWF is the Implementing Partner. The production manager trained field facilitators, and we then visited one village and farmer to test the tools. The participating farmer agreed on some simple biodiversity-positive measures he would try the following growing season. This was a positive start, considering that one production manager represents >4000 farmers who could also be making these types of biodiversity-positive decisions. Then consider that >400,000 farmers in India alone meet BCI’s Standards, and that BCI represents around 20% of global cotton production. All of this must now meet BCI’s stricter requirements on biodiversity management, with the help of the tools developed by us.
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