Cotton made in Africa Top

African cottonIn demand worldwide

African cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, using sustainable growing methods with harmony between agriculture, the natural environment and human beings.

About 8% of the cotton traded in the world market is harvested in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Africa cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, and there are only very few large plantations.

The cotton plant loves warmth – it needs about 200 days of sunshine in the season to flourish and bear fruit. For that reason alone, it does well in the dry or humid savannas of Africa. The climate, with its high average temperatures and alternation between dry and wet seasons favours the growing of this natural fibre crop.

It takes about six months from planting to harvesting of cotton. After the harvest, seed and fibre are separated from each other in the gins, and the thin coating of wax that surrounds the fibres and protects them from wetness is removed. At the end, the raw cotton is pressed into large bales, and sold onward to the spinning mills for yarn manufacture. Thus it starts its trip along the textile chain – from the spinning mill to the finished garment.
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Selected cotton producers, share in world market (%), 2008-09

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Vegetation zones of Africa with CmiA growing areas

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It takes about six months from planting cotton to harvest

Growing methods

In many parts of the world, cotton is grown in large plantations, but in Africa it is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, using crop rotation. In other words the cotton is grown alternately with other crops such as the basic food crops maize, soy or groundnuts. That reduces leaching of soils and the occurrence of pests. Cotton is often a complementary cash crop – it is grown for sale, alongside the foods grown in subsistence farming. The growing methods which farmers are taught by Cotton made in Africa also help the smallholder farmers when growing food in subsistence farming, and thus play an important part in securing their food supplies.

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Artificial irrigation, as often used in large plantations, is practically not used in Africa. The smallholder farmers work with rain-fed cultivation, in other words natural rainfall has to be enough for watering the crops. The wet and dry phases in the African growing areas are helpful to meet the needs of the cotton plant. In its growth phases, cotton is highly sensitive to excess moisture – in the first germination and growth phase, the cotton plant needs wet soils, but in the maturing phase the quality of the fibres may be damaged if conditions are too wet. The available rainwater has to be used efficiently, specifically in the dry areas of Africa. That requires balanced use of fertilizer or mulching. The soil between the cotton plants is covered with organic material such as leaves to reduce loss of moisture by evaporation.
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Harvesting methods

Man versus machine – the cotton in the US, Brazil and Australia is harvested with gigantic machines, but in African growing areas harvesting is mainly by hand. Of course that takes much longer, but it also gives major benefits compared with machine harvesting – the machine makes one pass through the cotton field, taking not only the cotton boll, but everything in the field; human pickers work in a much more careful and environmentally sound way. The hand pickers take only completely mature fibre bolls. Hand-picked cotton is also cleaner, because the machines take considerable quantities of soil, leaves, twigs, etc. with them.

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Another benefit is that hand picking, unlike machine harvesting, does not use defoliant, so there is less chemical contamination of the cotton. However, there are also quality problems to be faced by African cotton picked by hand. The widespread plastic waste, which has unfortunately spread even to remove villages of Africa, may lead to the presence of foreign material. CmiA is tackling this problem in cooperation with the African partners.

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Reduction of pesticides by sustainable concepts

Use of pesticides

Cotton is more attractive to pests and pathogens than practically any other plant. That is why the high-volume usage of pesticides is a negative aspect that goes with cotton growing worldwide. Only a very small proportion of alternative growers avoid the use of pesticides completely, selling their raw materials as organic cotton. But the percentage of organic cotton in the global market is currently still small, due partly to the higher production costs (due to lower yields and increased cultivation work) and the fact that it is not possible to get higher market prices for organic cotton garments. Consumers are not willing (or not yet willing) to pay more for organic textiles.

One approach for reduction of pesticides, used particularly in sustainable concepts such as Cotton made in Africa, is integrated pest control. One of the methods used is “threshold spraying”, i.e. not using preventive spraying, but spraying only if certain damage thresholds are exceeded, that is if the pest or pathogen attack is so serious that it is likely to cause economic damage. The damage threshold principle requires intensive training of farmers, but also permits reduction of pesticide use by up to 30%.

Genetically modified cotton

Cotton pests show increasing resistance to the pesticides used. To solve this problem, the cotton industry worldwide is looking for genetically modified cotton that is resistant to some of the pests. Between 60 and 70% of cotton grown in the main growing countries USA, India and China is now genetically modified. Many African cotton farmers likewise see genetically modified cotton as technical progress, and do not want to be left out of it. But so far, the only countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where smallholder farmers grow genetically modified cotton are South Africa and Burkina Faso.
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Cotton made in Africa

Cotton made in Africa is cultivated using sustainable methods by smallholder farmers in Benin, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique and Cote d'Ivoire. Specifically that means that the cotton is grown in rain-fed cultivation with effective, responsible use of pesticides and fertilizer, and is harvested by hand. Cotton made in Africa has defined the requirements for growing in a Criteria Catalogue, and checks compliance by regular verification.

Cotton made in Africa has undertaken not to grow any genetically modified cotton in the framework of the initiative. The use of genetically modified seeds is one of the exclusion criteria included in the Cotton made in Africa Standards (exclusion criteria No11).

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Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in AfricaThe exhibition and the project behind it

This exceptional collaboration with fashion and commercial photographer Albert Watson will provide insight into the cotton farmers' worlds and transport a better awareness of CmiA's work.

The photos will illustrate the initiative's goal to improve social conditions in the smallholder farmers’ lives without visual stereotypes. The aim is in contrast to show a new image of African living environments – through the eyes of Albert Watson. In addition to the cotton harvest, that was underway during the journey, Watson has also visited traditional markets and a regional king in Benin to get an impression of the diversity of life in Benin and its people.

Helping people to help themselvesWin-win situation for clothing suppliers and cotton farmers

Cotton made in Africa works on the principles of a social business. That means the initiative operates in accordance with sound business methods, except that is it does not aim to maximise the profits of individuals, but rather to improve the conditions of life of a large number of African cotton farmers ...