Cotton is a popular plant – not just with people but also with insects. But not all insects are good for the cotton plants. As pests, they can ruin entire yields and thereby the income of a family. This worries cotton farmers like Thomas Bwambale from Uganda. Through partnering with Cotton made in Africa and participating in agricultural trainings however, he has learned that it is not always necessary to use toxic pesticides to protect his precious yields from pests.
Traditionally, cotton farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa apply pesticides according to the calendar. They decide to spray chemical plant protection products in regular intervals, regardless of the actual pest infestation and according need for protection on the field - at the expense of the farmers’ budget, their health and their environment.
The CmiA standard aims at schooling cotton farmers to foster the restricted and responsible use of pesticides. According to the so-called threshold principle, it is first determined if the yields are threatened by pests through examining how densely the field is infested. This is easily done by counting on a sample basis how many harmful insects there can be found on the plants. Thomas Bwambale uses this method: “In the farmer trainings, I was shown how to count pests, how to tell them apart from beneficiaries and how to know when it‘s really necessary to use pesticides.“ As a simple tool, the thresholds are being measured in pictograms that give famers an easy orientation. Bwambale tells us about the effectiveness of the sensitisation in handling pesticides: “Through the trainings, I have learnt that pesticides are bad for the environment and my soil and I now only use them when there is a concerning amount of pest infestation on my field”, reports the farmer. “Today, I do not spray regularly, but only when it is really needed”, he continues. Through the conscious use of pesticides, the smallholder farmers can save a significant amount of money and at the same time protect the environment, their health and their soils.
As the application of pesticides poses a risk for the environment as well as for farmers’ health, the Cotton made in Africa standard strictly excludes the use of pesticides classified as dangerous by international conventions.1 Pregnant or nursing mothers, minors, ill or inexperienced people are forbidden to work with pesticides for their own protection. Moreover, farmers like Thomas Bwambale learn how they can adequately protect themselves when spraying and which gentle, environmentally friendly and more sustainable alternatives can be used for pest control. Amongst others, this comprises measures such as organic pesticides or molasses traps.
1) Pesticides regulated by the Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention or which the WHO has ranked as extremely or highly hazardous (class Ia and Ib) may not be used. For their own safety, pregnant women, nursing mothers, sick people, children, and untrained and/or inexperienced persons are prohibited from working with pesticides.
Protecting both the environment and one’s own health whilst also securing cotton yields or even increasing one’s income – is that possible? Hariet Muhindo, cotton farmer in the Nyamirangara village in Uganda, wondered the same. Then she attended the trainings that are an integral element of the Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) program, where she learned that it is possible – and how it is.
“Thanks to the Cotton made in Africa farmer trainings, I have learnt how to use less pesticides and how to handle them correctly”, reports Hariet. Pesticides usually are an integral part of conventional cotton cultivation, as they shield the plants from pests and hence avoid crop shortfalls. Through farmer trainings, on the other hand, CmiA farmers like Hariet Muhindo learn that the utilisation of pesticides is not always necessary, that there are alternative solutions to fighting pests and that there is a number of precautions to take when handling pesticides.
Since she became a participant in the CmiA program, Hariet works according to the threshold principle. This means that she checks the degree of pest infestation on her field and only applies pesticides when the amount of pests exceeds a certain limit. In this, it is especially important to differentiate between pests and beneficiaries – another learning that Hariet took away from the farmer trainings. In agriculture, insects that are natural enemies of pests are designated beneficiaries, since they help protect the farmer’s yields. Thanks to the knowledge she acquired, Hariet can now use considerably less pesticides, protect beneficiaries on her cotton field and therein obtain higher yields.
In the farmer trainings, Hariet also learned about alternative methods for protecting her fields. Now she knows what kinds of organic pesticides there are and how to construct simple traps made of available means like molasses. Such alternatives have a triple benefit for Hariet: they are locally attainable and cost very little, which allows her to decrease her expenses. On top of that, they are natural, thus protecting the environment, and effective in protecting her yields. When Hariet Muhindo still uses pesticides, these are classified according to international conventions and therefore regulated and controlled by the CmiA standard. The rules are strict: All pesticides that are listed by the Rotterdam Protocol and/or the Stockholm Convention and/or classified as extremely hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are prohibited. Any violation of these restrictions leads to the exclusion from the CmiA program.
Hariet Muhindo is aware of the dangers and effects of certain pesticides. To protect herself and her family in the best way possible, she learned a lot about the deliberate, safe and health preserving handling of pesticides. For instance, she now stores containers with plant protection products out of children’s reach and disposes empty containers appropriately. “And I now know that it’s important to wear protective clothing when applying pesticides on my cotton field”, she adds. “I now use an overall or long-sleeved shirt, a pair of trousers and face mask when applying pesticides.”
With the aim of continuously and sustainably reducing the utilisation of dangerous pesticides on the cotton field, Cotton made in Africa therefore follows an approach of dialogue and sensitisation through its farmer trainings and offers smallholder farmers a variety of practical alternative methods and solutions.
Education is one of the most important requirements for improving the living conditions of people in Subsaharan Africa and combating causes of migration. As standard for sustainable cotton, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) therefore puts a focus on training the participating cotton farmers in business and agriculture. CmiA also supports the fight against child labour to give as many children as possible a chance to go to school.
Matakon Hacda has a small cotton field in Mafa-Kilda, Northern Cameroun, on which he generates the proceeds that support his family. Together with his wife, he has 13 children. The fact that they do not work on the field traces back to Matakon‘s participation in the Cotton made in Africa initiative. All cotton farmers participating in the program have to comply with the criteria of the CmiA verification system. Child labour is an exclusion criterion in the CmiA standard. Regular audits conducted by independent verification agencies thereby ensure compliance.
The farmer trainings established by CmiA support the farmers in implementing the CmiA sustainability criteria. In the so-called farmer business schools the 42 year old Matakon has learnt a great deal about efficient and sustainable farming methods. As a consequence, he could already increase his yields significantly. Since his family now has more income, his children can go to school instead of helping on the farm. The CmiA-trainings not only convey knowledge about how to manage a cotton farm more economically and more environmentally friendly, but also raise awareness for topics such as child labour. The participating smallholder farmers gain an understanding about why child labour is bad and why it must be avoided. They learn that good schooling helps the entire family in the long run.
For Matakon Hacda, his partnership with the Cotton made in Africa has already improved the living conditions of his and his familiy: "Through the Farmer Business School training, we were able to benefit a lot, especially in the area of managing our farms and households . All in all, a lot has changed with these trainings: we have learned a lot about good farming practices, but also about child labour.“
In Sub-Saharan Africa, women like Juliyana Kabugho have to be true multi-talents. While they are usually in charge of their children’s upbringing and the wellbeing of their families, they also take care of planting and harvesting cotton. Many tasks that demand a lot of energy. This is where Cotton made in Africa comes in and offers support. For instance, through agricultural trainings that are adapted especially to female farmers’ needs. “Due to my cooperation with CmiA, I have gained knowledge on good agricultural practices”, Juliyana rejoices. For her, this has meant considerable improvements: “My cotton yield has increased from 200 to 500 kgs per acre”, she tells us.
Through the CmiA-trainings, participating farmers can continuously and sustainably improve their cotton growing skills. This allows them to cultivate their fields in a manner that is protecting both the people and the environment, which can ultimately allow farmers to gain higher crop yields and ameliorate their living conditions. This is also what Juliyana Kabugho experienced.
In the trainings, Juliyana has learned everything about the principles of good agricultural practices – including, amongst others, how to efficiently use fertilizers and how to create bio-fertilisers. As the CmiA Standard excludes artificial irrigation, Juliyana solely uses rainwater to grow her cotton. The precise methods of this so-called rainfed irrigation are also taught in the farmer trainings. This way, Juliyana now knows how to successfully farm her field and generate good yields without using artificial irrigation.
On top of that, the female farmer from Uganda has learned that pesticides are bad for both humans and the environment – and that the CmiA-criteria, if at all, only allow the use of particular pesticides under strict constrictions. She now knows why it is so important that pregnant or nursing women keep their distance from pesticides. And that it is vital to handle pesticides professionally and only whilst wearing protective clothing to protect the farmers’ health. Juliyana can also increasingly forego the use of artificial pesticides, having learned how to correctly determine the necessity for spraying and the use of organic alternatives.
Thanks to participating in the Cotton made in Africa program and the corresponding agricultural trainings, Juliyana Kabugho has altered her cultivation methods considerably. She now farms her cotton fields more sustainably and with regard to ecologic, economic and social aspects. This way, she could more than double her cotton yields and improve her living conditions, by herself. “I am happy that last season I earned enough money by selling my cotton, so that I could start building a house”, reports Juliyana.
As independent entrepreneurs, all cotton farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa have to make wide-ranging decisions for their small business - the cotton field - on a daily basis. People like Ali Dandi make sure that they can successfully and sustainably do so: the 48-year old works as regional trainer at a Cotton made in Africa (CmiA)-certified cotton company in Mafa-Kilda, northern Cameroun. As such, he trains smallholder cotton farmers and teaches them basic management knowledge in the so-called Farmer Business Schools. These are an inherent part of the CmiA training programme. "The trainings have really changed the lives of the farmers”, reports Ali Dandi. “On the one hand, they are planning their production in advance and are able to estimate exactly what they have to do in order to reach their goals. On the other hand, they are able to maintain much better with their income and profits - to the great benefit of their families.”
Trainings such as the Farmer Business School ones are a key ingredient to the Cotton made in Africa programme. The farmers, who used to lack access to basic schooling programmes, now learn how to successfully manage their small business with foresight. Which portion of the yield should be budgeted for new seeding material, how high do my reserve assets have to be and how much money do we need to feed the family and send the kids to school? These important decisions now do not have to be made solely based on intuition.
The Farmer Business Schools teach smallholder cotton farmers in the CmiA project regions important managerial basics and offer them decision support for the management of their family business. Ali Dandi and his colleagues use especially developed teaching materials such as picture blocks to illustrate to smallholder farmers how they can better estimate the market and production risks of their cotton cultivation and sensibly control their budget. Private house holding and budget management is also a training subject. For instance, Ali also explains to his participants which foods can be grown to ensure a balanced and healthy nutrition for their families.
Next to Farmer Business Schools, a second key subject lists on Ali Dandi's training agenda: the so-called Gender Trainings, which are centered around the promotion of gender equality and women's rights. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women carry out a great part of the work, both on the cotton field and at home. This is however rarely reflected in their role and position within the village communities. In addition to the principles set out in the CmiA criteria measures for the equality of men and women, Cotton made in Africa therefore puts a focus on Gender Trainings. These strengthen the role of women in the cotton sector and in the village communities. Women are schooled in modern and efficient methods for sustainable cotton cultivation according to their specific needs. Many women also get trained as so-called lead farmers, a role in which they set an example for other women in the village.
Through the Gender Trainings, the female farmers also receive easier access to loans as well as their own contracts with the regional otton companies to earn their own income. Organised into groups, they offer them a strong network and more independence. “In the course of gender trainings, a number of women's groups have been established“, reports Ali Dandi. In small groups, the women plant cotton as well as other crops together. The income they generate as a group is reinvested, for example in the construction of a warehouse, in setting up a chicken farm, or in education for their children. Therefore, both the women and their entire families profit from the Gender Trainings - a considerable benefit for everyone.
Between harvests, cotton companies have little work for the employees in their ginning plant, which is why the majority of them are employed as seasonal workers each year. Elisé Balimaya Kabaya is one of them. Since 2014, she has been working as an electrician from the first to the last day of ginning in one of the ginning plants of SOCOMA, a Cotton made in Africa partner in Burkina Faso. Right at the very beginning when starting her job, the 27-year-old woman had an accident in which she injured her hand. SOCOMA paid all of the medical costs which is by no means given in countries such as Burkina Faso. This is not the only reason why she is happy to have this job, “With the money I earn here, I can pay for my books and school fees,” says Balimaya Kabaya. She has been studying for her general secondary school diploma for university entrance and will be taking the exams as an external candidate. “My biggest dream is to study electrical engineering and later find a really good job,” she confesses. “But I also learn a lot on the job at SOCOMA because I can see how something that I normally just read in theory in my books works in practice.” Balimaya Kabaya is one of the few women who work in the factory and the only one among the electricians. “But I have no problems with that,” she says. “Everyone respects me and takes me seriously because I am good at what I do."