Wearing a bathrobe to raise awareness for cotton farmers in Africa? Precisely! In the face of climate crises, tons of microplastic polluting the oceans and inhuman working conditions for people in the cultivating regions of cotton, coffee, rice and other commodities, it’s easy to get frustrated and think that we as individuals cannot change this. But we can. Cotton made in Africa shows how, and in a positive way – with the #BathrobeChallenge. Because the good thing is: Everybody can do something to change the world for the better. And sometimes, doing good can be easy! How so?
With the #BathrobeChallenge, CmiA sends a clear message: Everybody who joins in by wearing a bathrobe in public is taking a stand for the more than one million African cotton farmers who collaborate with CmiA. Mary Mbambu is one of them. Through Cotton made in Africa, she and her husband Baluku have participated in farmer trainings – and learned a lot about sustainable cultivation methods and gender equality. When talking to Mary about her experiences and knowledge gained through the trainings, one thing came directly to her mind: “We share the tasks”, she reports. “When I‘m not well, Baluku cooks for the kids or attends to other tasks that traditionally rather fall to women. We also talk about how we spend our money. For me, it was for example very important to cultivate food crops, next to cotton, to provide for our family. I could carry the argument home and now we even have a small pantry for our harvest.” Breaking with traditional gender roles and learning more about gender equality has made Mary something of a role model in her community. “Other women often approach me and ask how I learned so much”, she reports. “Then I tell them that the trainings in mixed training groups help me.”
Together with its partners and friends such as OTTO, Tchibo, WWF or Welthungerhilfe, CmiA is inviting everybody to join the #BathrobeChallenge and discover the world behind our textiles. The bathrobe has been chosen as a strong symbol for this mission as it exemplifies how much cotton is used in our clothes. As a fashion item however, the bathrobe is rarely present in public – just like the faces and stories of African cotton farmers like Mary. With the #BathrobeChallenge, CmiA wants to give African cotton farmers the recognition they deserve in international trade and give a positive, recognizable "face" to a hitherto anonymous mass product - cotton. When we met Mary at her home in Western Uganda and talked about the fun social media campaign we built around the bathrobe, she wanted to be a part of it and immediately put on a bathrobe - and her amazing smile.
Through partnering with CmiA, farmers can take part in a training programme and learn about efficient and sustainable agricultural as well as business methods, gender equality and the importance of stopping child labour. These trainings make it easier for farmers to protect nature and improve their living and working conditions themselves. Consumers can easily choose to support African cotton farmers like Mary and Baluku – and not just by wearing a bathrobe and spreading the word on sustainable cotton. Products that support the initiative wear a small red Cotton made in Africa label. This makes them easy to recognise and allows consumers to opt for products that make them smile – and share this smile with farmers and nature. A wide range of brands and retailers partner with CmiA and use CmiA certified cotton in their production. For a full list of partners, click here.
Discover more about the #BathrobeChallenge at www.bathrobechallenge.com
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.
One of Cotton made in Africa‘s key tasks is supporting female cotton farmers in rural Africa. 17% of all farmers participating in the CmiA program are women. Biira Lawuniyeda is one of them. As smallholder farmer from western Uganda, she participates in the CmiA program, cultivates sustainable CmiA cotton and receives training in both business and agricultural practices. For Biira, learning how to manage her farm like a small business was important. In the so-called Farmer Business Schools, she has learned how to assess market and production risks and how to reasonably manage her budget and savings: “I am now able to pay school fees for my children and I have also started a retail business from the incomes I obtained from cotton sales”, she reports. For Biira and other female cotton farmers in rural Africa it is a big step to learn how to manage a farm efficiently and be able to invest income from cotton sales on their own. Besides their hard work in the fields, women often take care of the children and the general welfare of the entire family. But learning about new agricultural and even business methods was not part of their curriculum before. In the trainings, Biira has also learned how to best cultivate her field and increase her yields through new methods: “The farmer training program has helped me increase my cotton yield”, she reports happily. She explains that ever since using her new skills on the field, she is receiving up to twice as much yield as before.
For CmiA, supporting women in their daily work and life means supporting them in their position as role models for other women as they are real multi-talents on the farm, in the cotton business and in the family. Behind the scenes they are a driving force when it comes to sustainable improvements for the whole community. Against this backdrop, CmiA has set up a special program for women in the cotton farming business. In addition to the set of gender-related sustainability criteria ensured by the CmiA standard, trainings are tailored to the particular needs of and challenges for female farmers. The CmiA program also entails the initiation of female working groups, gender equality trainings in the rural communities and the support of small start-ups led by women. All this allows women to stand up in the community as proud female cotton farmers and in the end enables them to improve their living conditions and those of their families on their own. Here you can read more about how CmiA supports women.
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.