In Sub-Saharan Africa, improving the living conditions of smallholder farmers is directly associated with the empowerment of women. Female cotton farmers do most of the work in the field and at home, but often do no possess the same rights and position as men. Against this backdrop, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) advocates women's rights and their position in society as well as in business together with local partners, the CmiA certified cotton companies. To enable women to step into economic and social independence, CmiA and its partners are helping to set up women clubs, supporting income-generating projects for women's groups and implement gender equality measures within the cotton growing areas.
Having equal rights, an own bank account or land as well as the liberty to spend the money they work for on the fields and in the households is still a challenge for many women in rural Africa. This is why CmiA invests in women empowerment activities. Together with cotton companies and partners CmiA sets up women’s clubs, gives financial support for women empowerment measures and initiates positions for gender officers within CmiA certified cotton companies. Gender Officers help to kick-start income-generating activities for women clubs and support them implementing their projects. Women clubs are founded as a result of joint cotton farming and give women the opportunity to organize themselves, set up own projects, earn an additional income and become role models for other women.
Just recently, our colleague Nina Schöttle, Junior Project Manager responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation at the Aid by Trade Foundation, travelled to Zambia to attend Focus Group Discussions with women clubs and a Gender Officer Workshop. The aim was to monitor and evaluate the impact of CmiA's women empowerment measures. The focus group discussions were conducted with three different women’s clubs – the Tuyandane women‘s club in Nampundwe region and the Shakunkuma women‘s club in Nampundwe region who have both set up goat rearing as well as the Choolwe women‘s club in Sinazongwe region who created a tailoring project. All clubs have a constitution and designated roles, such as a chair lady, a secretary, a treasurer, trustees and executive members. They have regular meetings, usually once per week.
During the Focus Group Discussions, different aspects such as the club activities, the personal motivation and consequences of being a club member for individual members as well as continuous challenges and areas of improvement have been discussed. The members concluded that being organized in a group and getting support by a gender officer helps them to exchange ideas and knowledge. They are teaching each other in different skills and support each other also emotionally. As a consequence, they are put in the position to not only increase their income but also gain more autonomy and self-confidence.
To successfully set up women’s clubs and implement their projects, gender officers – such as Merit Tembo (Alliance cotton company), Violet Mandauka (Highland cotton trading) and Nyambe Muchindu (CGL) – play a crucial role in Zambia. The three of them give moral support when the clubs are facing difficulties and give practical advice for the implementation of activities. They help the clubs to structure their ideas and to make solid plans for the future. The trainings gender officers conduct goes far beyond cotton training and comprises also topics such as HIV/AIDS and gender, basic economic skills (financial and household planning), nutrition, child labour, safety issues (e.g. not to spray during pregnancy) and last but not least gender roles at home.
When asked about the perception of gender training topics among farmers, Merit, Violet and Nyambe could identify a significant shift since they started their work: Several years ago, farmers were uninterested and unwilling to learn about gender. Today, they are perceived and adopted better in general, the gender officers reported. This shift can be also traced back to a change in the farmers base: More women now have their own contracts with the cotton companies. Additionally, there are also more female lead farmers who guide fellow farmers in sustainable and efficient farming techniques. As a consequence, an increased number of women attend trainings, speak up and give input during the trainings, Merit, Violet and Nyambe explained. Overall, about 16% of CmiA’s farmers base is female.
By implementing women empowerment measures, CmiA aims to help strengthen the rights and position of women in society. The income earned as a group is kept by the treasurer and if a certain amount is reached, the money is equally distributed among the members or reinvested to grow their business, help other women in need or finance school fees for their kids.
Nina Schöttle concluded: "I was deeply impressed by the female farmers in Zambia who set up their own businesses to become financially independent. I am happy that with the promotion of women's projects, we can support them in kick-starting their business ideas. I was impressed to see the great motivation of the female farmers to realize their own projects for the benefit of their families and learn more about the impact the gender officers have on the empowerment of women in rural Zambia. "
In 2018, the gender officers in Zambia have been financially supported by the Ana Kwa Ana Foundation, a foundation for women and children in need initiated by Janina Özen-Otto, daughter of CmiA founder Prof. Dr. Michael Otto. The women clubs get additional support by Rewe Group and Corman All gender activities are realized in close cooperation with the local cotton companies such as Alliance, Highland Cotton Trading and CGL in Zambia.
Since the start of Cotton made in Africa in 2005, the initiative has significantly expanded its network of partners who work with smallholder cotton farmers according to the CmiA Standard criteria. During the year 2018, two new partners have joined CmiA, and three more candidates already have successfully passed the verification missions and are about to finalize administrative requirements to formally become CmiA partners. The resulting extension of CmiA’s network in Zambia, Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria further strengthens the sustainable cotton sector across Africa.
In early 2018, SOFITEX in Burkina Faso was the first new partner to successfully pass the initial verification cycle on both gin and field level. The cotton company is one of the largest in Africa, with more than 267.000 farmers producing seed cotton and a fibre output of ca. 119.000 metric tons in the 2017/18 season.
Later this year, Highlands Cotton Trading (HCT) in Zambia has joined the CmiA family. HCT is a new company founded by Parrogate after having taken over cotton operations from Cargill in Zambia, which had been a long-time partner. As Parrogate itself is also a CmiA partner through its company Continental Ginnery Limited (CGL), a partnership with CmiA was intended from the very beginning. The Parrogate companies together cover approximately one third of the Zambian cotton market.
In addition to SOFITEX and HCT, three more candidates are nearing completion of the verification cycles and only few administrative requirements remain to be met for them to become new CmiA partners. As a result, CmiA will be represented by a higher number of partners in Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire. With one new partner in Nigeria, CmiA will also increase the number of countries where the sustainable cotton standard is being implemented.
An overview of certified cotton companies can be found here.
CmiA annually updates aggregated numbers of farmers, area under cotton cultivation as well as seed cotton and fibre production in its factsheet which you can find here.
CmiA Partner Alliance Tanzania has a strong relationship with its cotton growing communities and is very committed to improving living conditions in the rural areas. Having constructed a Maternity Ward and provided several boreholes and water storage systems, the cotton company focused on the improvement of school infrastructure in 2018. Within less than one year, the company has built 11 new classrooms, 21 latrines and one girls dormitory for a secondary school and thereby improved learning conditions for more than 500 pupils in the region. The project was even honoured by the Tanzanian government through a visit of the annual Uhuru Torch race.
The Simiyu region in Northern Tanzania has a constantly growing young population, with almost one million inhabitants aged under 19. After the Tanzanian Government decided on free primary and secondary school education in 2015, the school enrolment rates have significantly increased. Although this is a great step towards widespread literacy within the society, the necessary school infrastructure does not yet meet the requirements of many parts of the Simiyu region, which is where CmiA Partner Alliance Tanzania is based. Long walking distances for the pupils, over-crowded classrooms and inadequate learning conditions thus remain problems that could not yet be solved.
Within the framework of the CmiA Community Cooperation Programme, Alliance Tanzania realized a project that contributed to improving the schooling situation. The objective of the project was to ensure an improved learning and teaching environment at four primary and two secondary schools and to thereby increase the overall pass rates. Alliance was very dedicated to the project and in less than one year, 11 new classrooms, 21 latrines as well as one dormitory for secondary school girls were built. In total, this created better learning conditions for more than 500 pupils in the region.
The new educational infrastructure is highly appreciated by the surrounding communities. Due to the new facilities and improved conditions, lower drop-out rates and better examination results are expected.
Even the Tanzanian Government took notice of the project and honoured it by bringing the Uhuru torch to the community as a symbol of appreciation.
CmiA congratulates Alliance Tanzania on the successfully implemented project and is looking forward to future collaborations.
 The Uhuru Torch (literally “Torch of Freedom”) is one of the National Symbols of Tanzania. It is a kerosene torch that symbolizes freedom and light- to symbolically shine the country and across its borders. There is an annual Uhuru Torch race which starts from different regions throughout Tanzania. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uhuru_Torch
The Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) is a Subscriber to the ISEAL Alliance. As a standard-setting organization it has created the Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) Initiative and its corresponding CmiA sustainability standard in 2008.
Approximately one million smallholder cotton farmers in ten countries of sub-Saharan Africa cultivated the crop according to the Cotton made in Africa standard in the 2017/18 season. The adherence to the standard is third-party verified and allows cotton companies to trade their lint cotton under the CmiA denomination. Retailers partnering with CmiA can use the consumer-facing CmiA label.
To award CmiA sales certificates, the AbTF commissions independent and ISO accredited control bodies in sub-Saharan Africa to regularly conduct third-party verifications of all CmiA partners both on the agricultural production and on the first level of processing (ginnery).
Since the CmiA Standard came into force in 2008, it has been continuously improved. The new version (Vol. 4) marks a new milestone in the development and represents a comprehensive revision of the CmiA standard.
Following the ISEAL Code of Good Practices on Setting Social and Environmental Standards, the AbTF holds a public consultation of 60 days, which is open for feedback from any interested public.
You can download the full draft CmiA Standard vol.4 here.
As the new cotton growing season is starting in Zambia, CmiA recently sent an agri-technical expert to give a series of Training of Trainers (ToT) on the vital role of extension staff and didactical methods for the officers to run impactful farmer trainings. While ToT is a typical and regular measure, this particular training series was special: for the first time, extension officers of four ginners were trained under one roof. This joint training trial was very well received, and ginners realized that a pre-competitive sharing of training content and knowledge on how to approach farmers can help the sector improve its overall performance.
Zambia is one of the countries where CmiA started its journey of enabling smallholder cotton farmers to improve their livelihoods through better farming practices. The country does not practice zoning, which means that ginners are not assigned to operate in a specific area only. Consequently, Zambian ginners work in a highly competitive environment. Interaction between ginners was so far limited to the Zambian Cotton Ginners Association (ZCGA), and - for five out of the seven members of ZCGA - through their linkage to CmiA, as they participated in workshops, stakeholder conferences and other events.
With the two-day training sessions in three locations across Zambia, a next step in collaboration amongst the ginners was now taken. On behalf of CmiA, an agri-technical expert conducted the training of 20 to 30 trainers representing each of the four ginning companies in Chipata, Katete and Mumbwa, thus reaching out to a total of 100 extension officers. The first training day focused on the vital role of extension officers concerning increasing yields across the farmers base. The second day dealt with the setting up and management of demo plots, integrated pest management and yield assessment.
The interactive sessions revealed a number of things: On the one hand, cotton companies sent quite experienced staff, as a minimum of 88% of participants in all three groups have worked in cotton for more than three years. On the other hand, a minimum of two thirds of the participants in the three groups have worked for more than one company. As a consequence, participants endorsed the joint training approach which, according to their feedback, can foster standardized messages in farmer training, knowledge sharing and relationship building between extension service staff. Participants jointly developed recommendations, and even asked that their management should take this approach to the next level by demanding authorities such as the Cotton Board of Zambia (CBZ) and/or ZCGA to require all cotton companies to present staff and farmer training policies.
AbTF thanks Dr Ben Sekamatte for his valuable training input, and Emmanuel Mbewe of Parrogate (CGL and HTC), Joseph Mwanza of NWK Agri-Services and Daniel Maseko of Grafax for taking this approach forward and organizing the training series with high efficiency.
An Impressive Example from Côte d’Ivoire
Within the framework of the CmiA Community Cooperation Programme and with support of the German fashion retailer bonprix, the cotton company COIC (Compagnie Ivoirienne de Coton) started a community project on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) back in March 2018. In a very short time, COIC was able to reach nine schools and villages and more than 2,500 people in total. The project initially had the goal to construct 21 latrines and five water pumps (boreholes), yet much more has already been achieved, even before the project has ended, including a local competition for “the cleanest village”.
The project’s first step was raising awareness amongst the population about the topic of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and ensuring ownership and long-term sustainable impact by involving the entire community in the activities as much as possible. The WASH trainings were the basis for a movement towards self-determined change. Training sessions were conducted in the local language and covered two topics: waterborne diseases, and hygiene and sanitation of people’s living environment. In total, more than 2,590 people across all age groups participated in these training courses.
The project’s second step was informing the communities about the construction of boreholes and latrines and establishing a committee that will be responsible for the facilities’ maintenance as well as water management in future.
The third step was repairing existing and constructing new boreholes and sanitary facilities. During the first months of the project, the borehole locations were determined and the first holes were drilled. All five wells have been built and so far, 12 latrines have been completed in four villages (three latrines per village). Until the end of December, nine more latrines will be built in three villages.
This project’s impact goes beyond the delivery of boreholes and latrines, as the communities involved have decided to close the year with a competition amongst themselves: They have defined a set of criteria against which they will assess “the cleanest village”. The communities have recognized that a clean village protects and respects the environment, which in turn facilitates clean water supply and healthy communities.
COIC has successfully implemented this project and especially achieved to involve the local communities from the very beginning, ensuring that their ownership yields long-term direct and indirect impact. The project has managed to reduce the spreading of preventable waterborne diseases by improving the basic supply of drinking water and providing sanitary facilities. In addition to this, it has also initiated visible changes in people’s behavior and everyday lives.