The Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) look to this year's annual UNESCO International Literacy Day on September 8 with a positive note: more than 5,300 smallholder farmers received a basic education in reading, writing, and arithmetic through the education project in Burkina Faso. The program exceeded its initial goal of teaching literacy to roughly 5,000 people by summer 2013.
Approximately 7,000 people enrolled in literacy courses in the Bazéga region, more than 6,000 participated in the courses, and more than 5,300 women and men (87.1 percent) successfully completed the courses by passing the final examinations. Women, in particular, benefit from the education project: More than half of the course participants enrolled and of the graduates were female. Kabore Germaine, the wife of one of the cotton farmers from Kuizili and mother of four, explained the advantages: "After two years, I can now read and write Moré. It's very important for my business to be able to do arithmetic. Now, I can go back and reread the recommendations I get on my family's health in my notes and pay more attention that my children regularly go to school." In addition to the courses, all teachers were provided with the opportunity to receive further education and training in pedagogy during the project.
Welthungerhilfe and the non-governmental organization ORGANIC led the project on the ground -- in close cooperation with the Provincial Directorate of the Ministry of Basic Education and Literacy (DPEBA) and the cotton company Faso Coton. It has been co-financed by Otto Österreich and Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG).
Originally scheduled to run three years, the program was extended for ten months due to the widespread interest by cotton farmers and commitment by OTTO Austria: "As a company it is important for us to act sustainably, and to offer support on a long-term basis. We consider the education project in Burkina Faso as a first phase in development cooperation in education. We will continue our commitment in 2014 together with the Aid by Trade Foundation--how and in what form it will take shape exactly is currently being explored by the organization's expert on site," explains Georg Glinz, Head of Marketing at OTTO Österreich.
Illiteracy has a negative impact on the socio-economical development in many West African countries: In Burkina Faso, roughly 78 percent of the adult population can neither read nor write. At the same time, cotton production is the heart and hope for the country's economic development because about 18 percent of people live from the cotton production. Education is thus a key factor to establishing sustainable farming practices and therefore improve the living conditions of cotton farmers and their families.
British peer of the realm Baroness Lola Young joined the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) Board of Trustees on June 1st, 2013 and participated in her first board meeting Wednesday, June 12th. Led by AbTF's founder Dr Michael Otto, the Board meets twice a year to ensure that the foundation's overriding goals -- improving socio-economic living conditions in Africa and promoting environmental conservation -- are being successfully met. Baroness Young has already been active on behalf of the Foundation and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) Initiative as ambassador in Great Britain since February 2012.
Lola Young works tirelessly throughout the world to promote the production and consumption of sustainable fashion. "Joining the board is a chance for me to be even more involved in the work of the Aid by Trade Foundation," Young noted. "Since I visited Zambia in 2011, it has become even clearer to me why it is so important to fight for sustainable raw materials in fashion. Even small changes in the way consumers and producers think can have a positive and very concrete effect on the lives of local people." The Aid by Trade Foundation is making an important contribution here.
The British peer of the realm accepted an invitation by the Aid by Trade Foundation to attend a stakeholder conference in Zambia in October 2011. There she learned about the work done by the AbTF and its CmiA Initiative, and also got to know a few African farmers. The visit convinced Young to come on board as the Foundation's ambassador and support the Initiative.
Lola Young has been an independent Member of the House of Lords since 2004. She founded and heads up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion. Baroness Young is also a member of the Member of the House of Lords EU Committee on Foreign Affairs. On the Aid by Trade Foundation Board of Trustees, she serves with leaders from environmental organizations, scientific institutions and the business community.
More information on the AbTF Board of Trustees here.
Dutch fashion fabric producer Vlisco Group is to partner with Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA) and will be the initiative's first partner to both produce and market its products to local consumers in Africa. Initially this will be a traditional sponsoring relationship and CmiA and Vlisco will share marketing and communication resources. For Vlisco Group, the demand for CmiA sustainable African cotton is crucial. Vlisco will be CmiA's first partner to create a complete textile supply chain on the African continent. The company will do this through Vlisco Group brands Vlisco, designed and produced in The Netherlands, and its three brands Woodin, Uniwax and GTP designed and manufactured in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
According to Jan van der Horst, Director of Corporate Affairs at Vlisco and responsible for CSR and sustainability: "This cooperation fits with Vlisco Group's policy to increase the use of locally sourced materials in its entire supply chain in the long term. Based on our local presence in the markets, where Cotton made in Africa is also active, we want to take it a step further, and approach smallholder farmers and show them how their cotton is sold on the African market through our products." This will make Vlisco the initiative's first demand partner to not only purchase and process cotton directly on the African continent, but also market the finished products in its stores in Benin and Côte d'Ivoire. CmiA and Vlisco Group plan to use this holistic approach to establish a complete textile chain in Africa.
Vlisco Group is a design house that develops, produces and exports colourful African print designs for the Western and Central African markets, and African consumers in large metropolitan centres such as New York, London and Paris. The Vlisco Group has four unique brands in its portfolio: Vlisco, Woodin, Uniwax and GTP. Each of these brands has its own style, brand identity and consumer target group. The designs of Vlisco Group have been an integral part of the culture of Western and Central Africa since 1846 where for women the colourful patterns and fabrics are as prestigious as any piece by an internationally renowned designer.
The Group launches quarterly collections of fashion fabrics under its flagship brand Vlisco, designed and produced in Helmond, with matching accessories including handbags, scarves, belts and jewellery. Since it was established in 1846, Vlisco designs and fabrics have grown to become an essential part of African style culture, with deep-rooted influences across all layers of society. The unique Vlisco signature enjoys worldwide recognition in the art, design and fashion worlds.
Representatives from the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) signed a long-term cooperation agreement in Paris today. By signing this agreement, both organizations underscore their goal to continue to improve the living conditions of smallholder farmers in developing regions through sustainable cotton production.
After a thorough benchmarking process between Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and the Better Cotton Standards, CmiA cotton will continue to be sold as Better Cotton to BCI members. The resources generated through this joint effort will be invested in improving the livelihoods of a large number of African smallholder farmers.
The initiatives are pursuing several goals with this cooperation: On the one hand, the aim is to increase the sale of sustainable African cotton on the world market along with the economic and environmental sustainability of smallholder farmers. On the other hand, the aim of the partnership is also to improve the living conditions of the cotton farmers and their families. The initiatives intend to work more closely together and develop common solutions especially for issues such as child labor, integrated pest management, and in system optimization between cotton supply and demand.
"Thanks to the close collaboration between Aid by Trade Foundation and BCI, participating smallholder farmers benefit through better market access and assistance and the textile industry benefits through better availability of sustainably produced cotton," says Christoph Kaut, Managing Director of the Aid by Trade Foundation.
The Aid by Trade Foundation and BCI will also work together to promote the continuous development of standards for sustainable cotton production. Patrick Laine, Chief Executive Officer at BCI expands: "With this partnership our respective members can benefit from the activities of both initiatives, improving access to the supply of sustainably produced cotton, and taking one step closer to sustainable cotton becoming a mainstream commodity."
This cooperation agreement will now extend the interim partnership already in existence since July 2012 on a permanent basis.
Engelbert Strauss, the mail-order and retail company, is the latest Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) demand partner. The cooperation represents CmiA's first entry into the important work clothes market.
Engelbert Strauss is supporting the Cotton made in Africa initiative and the expansion of sustainably produced cotton with its new "Art of Work" line. The colourful shirts with artistically interpreted, quality ostrich designs will be available at the company's online shop, its catalogue and in company-owned workwearstores in late summer 2013. The entire ten-piece collection, comprising t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts for men, women and children, bears the official wine-red Cotton made in Africa label. "Cotton, the all-natural raw material, enjoys great popularity, especially in the working world. In Cotton made in Africa we have found a partner that offers this commodity with social and ecological added value," says Henning Strauss, grandson of the company's founder and co-owner.
CmiA promotes sustainable cotton farming in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative has created an alliance of international textile companies that buy and process the sustainably grown cotton cultivated by around 435,000 participating small-holder farmers for the world market. The cotton marketed by CmiA has a considerably smaller ecological footprint than conventional cotton.
Engelbert Strauss is a leading manufacturer of work clothes and work safety equipment. The company is the first in its branch to take a conscious step towards sustainability, thus expanding efforts on behalf of social issues on the African continent.
The exhibit "Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa" returns to its country of origin in two ways: a selection from the heart of the show - the portraits of the Cotton made in Africa smallholder farmers -- is currently on display in public spaces in Cotonou as part of the Biennale Regard Benin. Additionally, the models were presented with their portraits, which had already been shown in the House of Photography, Deichtorhallen Hamburg.
Tina Stridde, Managing Director for the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF), who accompanied Watson on his travels though Benin emphasises: "From the very beginning we knew it was important to bring the exhibit back to Benin. Without the people and our partners there, the project would never have been possible. We would like to express our thanks to all those involved."
Cotton made in Africa at the Biennale Regard Benin 2012
Printed on comparatively grainy advertising media, eleven of the large-format Watson prints will initially be on display in Cotonou. Here the photographs from the country's cotton region represent a world that is far-away and foreign to Benin's urban dwellers.A plan to have an additional series travel through the north of Benin is also in development. The photographs are on open display from February 16 to April 16, 2013 in four-square-meter display cases owned by the Sonaec Company in Cotonou's central square, Ganhi Market, and in the windows of the Hôtel du Port in Boulevard Marina. The exhibit was made possible by the Aid by Trade Foundation in cooperation with the House of Photography, Deichtorhallen Hamburg and organised by the South-North Cultural Forum as part of the Biennale Regard Benin 2012 programme.
Stephan Köhler, responsible for the exhibition in Benin, first saw the photographs at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg in September: "It immediately made perfect sense to me to bring Watson's photographs back to Benin as soon as possible and display them in a public space, perhaps even as part of the Biennale Regard Benin."
Models receive their portraits
The models photographed by Watson in December 2011 received prints of their portraits prior to the exhibit. As part of a celebration all participants were presented their photographs, including 21-year-old Boukari Kaoulatou, whose impressive portrait was one of the most distinctive at the exhibition at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg.
Famous fashion and advertising photographer Albert Watson travelled to Benin in 2011 on behalf of the Aid by Trade Foundation to photograph the living environments of the smallholder cotton farmers there who participate in the Cotton made in Africa initiative. The "Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa" exhibit was held from 14 September 2012 to 13 January 2013 in the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. The show attracted around 35,000 visitors.
More information on Biennale Regard Benin 2012: www.regardbenin.net und www.facebook.com/RegardBeninBiennial