Cotton plants are quite unprepossessing and the fluffy white balls provide little indication of the economic importance of the raw material. Every year over 21 million tons of cotton are cultivated and processed throughout the world -- hence the nickname "white gold", as it is sometimes referred to. It is cultivated in huge quantities above all in China, India and the USA. Cotton growers in the United States of America receive considerable support through state subsidies.
In global terms, cotton production on the African continent is relatively small, but its huge economic significance for the individual countries can be seen in Benin, one of the poorest countries in the world, where it is the major crop in a farming industry that accounts for one third of the gross domestic product. In the 2009--10 season there were some 337,500 cotton growers in the small West African country. If their families are included, this means that around 2,362,500 people were dependent on this raw material -- over a quarter of the population. Most African growers are smallholder famers working not on plantations but on their own fields alone with the aid of their families and without hired help or large machines. In this country, in which around one third of the population live in extreme poverty, a guaranteed income through the sale of raw cotton provides a basic livelihood.
Worldwide cotton production has dwindled in the last few years above all because of rising costs, shortage of labour, additional government subsidies for cereal growers in China, and export restrictions in India. According to Michael Otto, chairman of the board of the Aid by Trade Foundation, the cotton market is likely to experience an international shortage in the next few years. The US Department of Agriculture reckons that the global demand this season will be around 120.87 million bales while the harvest is expected to produce only 116.85 million. The result is rising raw material prices: between the beginning and end of October last year cotton prices rose by 22 per cent to reach a new record level. For African cotton growers this presents an opportunity but also a risk. The demand for cotton on the world market is greater than the supply, which means that the price and hence the earnings will be higher. At the same time, there is a danger that the major textile companies will look elsewhere and turn more to polyester than before.
Whereas polyester used to be condemned as harmful to the environment, the development of recycled polyester has considerably improved its image. It is made from plastic waste and can be processed with less water and washed at lower temperatures than cotton. The production and processing of polyester has increased more in the last decades than cotton: while the production figures for cotton have doubled since the 1970s, polyester production has risen fivefold to 42 million tons in 2008 compared to 25 million tons of cotton.
Fritz Grobien from the Plexus cotton company in Malawi even goes as far as to pronounce that "polyester is the true enemy of cotton". The aim must be to revive cotton growing in Africa, on which so many people depend, by increasing productivity. It is with this in mind that he encourages growers and cotton businesses to join Cotton made in Africa, where they will learn how to increase their yield in the long term through sustainable cultivation. This initiative will help growers to consolidate their future through the cultivation of cotton. At the same time Cotton made in Africa will counteract the global decline in cultivation and will assist cotton in continuing to prevail on the world market against chemical fibres such as polyester.
You will be welcomed by Fahim, one of our cotton farmers from Benin. Fahim, other farmers and their families relate how they benefit personally from the initiative. They are typical of almost 200,000 smallholder farmers represented by Cotton made in Africa. Our main task is to support them and to improve their life and that of their families. This is why the faces of some of our partners in Africa also feature most prominently on our website. The new website is more diverse and informative and addresses both companies and users. Be it through portraits of African partner countries, articles on biodiversity or verification, the new Internet presence is full of fascinating subjects, instructive videos, and enlightening and readily understandable diagrams -- in three languages: German, English and French
The Initiative section provides information on the innovative approach to development by the Aid by Trade Foundation and the work of Cotton made in Africa. What is the foundation's philosophy? What does the initiative do exactly? How does it guarantee the implementation of underlying Aid by Trade philosophy? And where does the initiative operate?
The African cotton section provides detailed information about the "white gold on the Black Continent". It features clear diagrams and pictures explaining the growing and harvesting processes and the special features of African cotton cultivation.
This completely new section is aimed at two different target groups. In the Consumer subsection, consumers can find out how to recognise products made from Cotton made in Africa cotton and where they can buy textiles made from it. The Business sense subsection offers a comprehensive survey on corporate reasons for using Cotton made in Africa cotton. Companies will soon be able to find out how to become involved in the initiative by purchasing sustainable cotton, sponsoring the foundation or participating in a community project.
The Partner section, which requires a user log-in, has been considerably enlarged. Partners taking part in the Cotton made in Africa initiative will find extensive background information and material. It is simple to navigate and has a clear download area, and establishing contacts is also much easier through a listing by business areas. The cotton made in Africa website also includes a redesigned Newsletter offering information about the latest events and news. It is available in German and English and is published six times a year.
Press and download areas
Press and download areas have now also been added. The Press section contains press releases and background information and pictures relating to Cotton made in Africa and the Aid by Trade Foundation. The Download area includes pictures, logos and banners for downloading as well as the complete catalogue of Cotton made in Africa verification criteria.
Cotton made in Africa on YouTube
The Cotton made in Africa website illustrates its information with appropriate videos -- for example, an interview with Michael Otto in the fields of Benin. All of the videos are now listed on the new Cotton made in Africa YouTube channel. We hope you enjoy your visit to www.cottonmadeinafrica.org.
Magazin: When looking back at the past stakeholder workshop of Cotton made in Africa and COMPACI in Berlin, which three words do you think of first?
Gracious Hamatala: Sustainability, Value Chain and Future.
Magazin: The stakeholder workshop is an opportunity for exchange between the different stakeholders of Cotton made in Africa. From your point of view, which topics were the most important ones?
Gracious Hamatala: I think, the topics on "Pesticide utilization" and "Implementation of Cotton made in Africa"were the most important ones. Both presentations were really vivid and informative because they showed what has been achieved through the work of Cotton made in Africa so far and how efficiency can be increased further. The presentation "Fashion Futures 2025" which pointed out global future scenarios for a sustainable fashion industry was also very interesting.
Magazin: Mr. Hamatala, you also participated in the stakeholder workshop in Ouagadougou last year. What was different this time?
Gracious Hamatala: The composition of participants was better this year and the place was fantastic. The presentations have become better and more informative as well, I think. Magazin: What are the findings, that you think, you will benefit from in the future? Gracious Hamatala: The need to put more effort in producing cotton in an environmentally sustainable way was well articulated in both the forum for the future and the presentation of „Pestizid Aktions Netzwerks e.V." (PAN)* . I think, this core message was very well communicated to all the stakeholders and it will spur on our everyday work in the year to come.
Magazin: You have visited the German Reichstag, taken a boat trip on the Spree and went to a PUMA store. What impressions did you take back to Zambia?
Gracious Hamatala: It is hard to pick out single impressions here. Berlin is a fascinating city. It has a rich scenery and history. There is so much to see and learn.
Magazin: The next stakeholder workshop takes place in Zambia in the summer 2011. To what aspects are you looking forward to the most?
Gracious Hamatala: I am especially looking forward to sharing our emerging experiences in Cotton made in Africa. Furthermore, we will present to the stakeholders how cotton is produced and ginned in Zambia, which is a great honor for us. Beside the workshop, we will be able to accord the stakeholders a glimpse of one of the seven world wonders of nature: the Victoria Falls, or what we call them in Zambia "Mosi-Oa-Tunya" -- "the smoke that thunders".
*PAN is a non-profit organisation, which is engaged in informing about the negative implications of the use of pesticides and supports environmentally friendly and socially fair alternatives. (editor's note)