Pakistan is one of the world’s major cotton producers, the fourth largest exporter of raw cotton, and the second largest exporter of cotton yarn. More than five million people work as cotton growers and pickers in this very labour intensive sector.

Cotton is a vital source of income with the majority of growers and pickers dependent on their harvest to feed themselves and their families. However, the lives of cotton growers are increasingly blighted by extreme poverty, debt and ill health. This is due to escalating farming costs including the increased use of expensive toxic pesticides.

TRAID funded Oxfam to improve the lives, incomes and health of cotton growers and pickers in South Punjab by building their capacity to grow cotton without the use of toxic chemicals.

Oxfam’s local partner, the Doab Foundation, formed Women’s Groups in 30 villages training women cotton farmers to reduce pesticide use and to lobby for better access to markets and enterprise development. 360 women cotton farmers and pickers were trained in sustainable farming. In turn, they trained 3,000 cotton growers.

Through these women-led groups, 3,643 women growers reduced their farming costs by 20%, reduced pesticide use by 40 – 50% and also saw a 50% reduction in water use due to improved soil fertility and efficiency.

By the end of the project (in January 2013), 4,500 small cotton farmers had adopted sustainable farming practices. 6,750 growers and pickers directly benefited with 40,500 people, mainly family members, indirectly benefiting.

Through these women-led groups, cotton pickers have been helped to add value to their income by learning linked skills such as cotton spinning and weaving.