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Our philosophyAid by Trade

The Aid by Trade Foundation follows an innovative approach in development cooperation. Rather than sending money to Africa, the Cotton made in Africa Initiative follows the principles of “social business” – as the name of the Foundation says, this is aid by trade, helping people to help themselves by means of commercial activities. The African smallholder farmers who have joined this initiative are partners on an equal footing.

Win-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 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. In order to do that, it is building an alliance of international retail companies, which have targeted demand in the global market for sustainably produced cotton, and use this material in their products. Cotton made in Africa acts in accordance with the rules of the market, avoiding subsidies or interventions in the system of world market prices, which are dependent on supply and demand as are the prices of practically all raw materials.

In return for the right to produce garments labeled Cotton made in Africa, the members of the Demand Alliance pay licence fees to the Foundation. The licence earnings are reinvested in the african project regions. This approach gives a win-win situation for everyone involved – the partners of the Demand Alliance get cotton produced in accordance with a social and ecological standard, without paying a significantly higher price for it. The African smallholder farmers and their families get several advantages – they learn more efficient growing methods, so that they can improve their income by better yields, and they benefit from social projects such as improvement of schools.
Cotton made in Africa images
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Different initiatives, different approaches

There are many initiatives which are aimed at improving the conditions of life of the smallholder farmers involved, and which give important stimuli to enlarge the market for sustainable cotton. They take different approaches to do that. CmiA has some points in common with other initiatives for production and marketing of sustainable cotton, but also some important differences.


One main difference is that Cotton made in Africa cotton is traded at global market prices and avoids the use of subsidies and artificial price increases. The licensing fee firms pay to the foundation. Revenues from licence fees payed are directly re-invested in the project countries e.g. for agricultural training courses that teach smallholder farmers efficient and environmentally friendly methods of cultivation in keeping with the CmiA verification criteria. These methods improve yield and as such the available income of the farmers. Cotton made in Africa consequently provides better conditions of life for smallholder farmers and their families by means of the steady growth in the international Demand Alliance and the increasing demand for African cotton.

Sustainable cotton growing

There are other initiatives that focus on the cultivation and sale of organic cotton. But as it is still quite expensive to grow this cotton, in many cases it is not yet able to meet the requirements of the mass market, and remains a niche product for the time being. Big retail companies want to buy the cotton raw material at the lowest possible price, because consumers are normally not willing to pay more for it. Cotton made in Africa wants to sell as much African cotton as possible in the market, to improve the conditions of life of as many smallholder farmers as possible. So CmiA cotton has to hold its own in the mass market.

Cotton made in Africa is not organic cotton. But sustainable growing of the raw material is ensured – together with its partners, the initiative gives the farmers training in modern, efficient growing methods, with awareness of pesticide use, i.e. use of the minimum amount of pesticides. Rain fed cultivation and crop rotation is used. But the initiative works in close cooperation with the organic cotton organisations, for joint work to increase the sales of sustainably grown cotton.

CmiA graphic

“Sustainability” – more than just a buzzword

For the Aid by Trade Foundation, “sustainability” comprises an economic element (Profit), a social element (People) and an ecological element (Planet). The Aid by Trade Foundation defines the following “sustainability indicators”:

  • Profitincome and assets of the farmers
  • Peoplepercentage of primary-school-age children in school
  • Planetwater use and soil fertility

Cotton made in Africa believes that sustainable development work can only by integrating all three of the above elements in a balanced way. Only then is it possible to achieve long-term improvement of the conditions of life of the African smallholder farmers. Cotton made in Africa checks regularly to what extent the criteria for fulfilment of these indicators are met. That makes it possible to assess development in a systematic way in the individual growing areas.

Cotton made in Africa as a mediator for social projects

Cotton made in Africa makes Public Private Partnerships (PPP) possible. The special feature of PPP projects is that they are cooperative ventures where public or government institutions work together with private-sector companies for joint accomplishment of a project, including joint funding. The initiative takes on the role of the stimulus provider and the mediator – it shows where there is need and opportunity for support, and gets the two sides together around a table in order to ensure the best possible realisation of joint projects. In the case of Cotton made in Africa, these are mostly projects to improve the social infrastructure. For example educational projects in primary education and adult education, e.g. literacy programmes.

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Teaser Milestones

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.

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. ...