The first ever organic cotton certificates in Ethiopia have been achieved by 200 of the country’s cotton farmers in three districts where yield rates have risen by 100%.
Financed by fashion reuse charity TRAID, supported by the Pesticide Action Network UK, and delivered in-country by PAN-Ethiopia, the organic cotton project has trained over 2,000 smallholder cotton farmers since its inception in 2013 in the North Omo, Gamo Gofa Zone in the Arba Minch Zuria and Mirab Abaya Districts of the Southern Ethiopian Rift Valley.
Training has involved demonstrating the benefits of good crop husbandry, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and soil improvement without the use of expensive and hazardous pesticides.
“Heavy pesticide use has led to serious impacts on health and the environment,” the Pesticide Action Network UK says. “Globally, nearly 1,000 people are estimated to die every day from acute pesticide poisoning. Many more suffer from chronic ill health, including cancers, neurological diseases and infertility.
“The majority of fatalities and ill health is experienced by farmers in developing countries where regulation is weaker and protective equipment is less available. By learning to farm sustainably farmers in Ethiopia are achieving higher yields and experiencing fewer health problems. In addition, bees and insects are starting to return to their fields, bringing the whole ecosystem back into balance and opening up other sources of income, including the sale of honey.”
As a result of the training, farmers are now achieving yields 100% higher than untrained farmers in the same area and the price obtained per kg of cotton has increased by 77%.
Sheila Willis, head of international programmes at PAN UK explains: “The farmers involved have made the most of the training provided. It is to their credit and the brilliant team in Ethiopia that they are the very first in the country to secure organic accreditation for cotton. We anticipate that this will bring them new opportunities to market their high-quality product. The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and the local agricultural departments in the project area has been very supportive of this initiative and we look forward to working closely with their extension services to share experience with many more farmers in future.”
The groups are now calling on big brands to support the farmers in the initiatives and “encourage the general public to buy organic cotton whenever possible”.