The Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF), which administers Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), has launched CAR-iSMa, short for ‘Climate Adaption and Resilience: A Pan-African Learning and Knowledge Exchange Project on Improved Soil Management’, to primarily improve soil management through sustainable production methods in order to better the livelihoods of small-scale farming families, reduce the effects of climate change for this target group, and strengthen their resilience.

The organisation expects about 100,000 people working in cotton production to benefit from the climate adaption project activities. The focus is on the small-scale farmers supported by local, CmiA-verified cotton companies. The project is also planned to include a qualification programme for soil management trainers as well as training material for agricultural consultants.

“Despite its key function in climate protection, soil management often falls by the wayside,” AbTF says. “The way we use our soil has significant implications for our climate, and it also plays a role in deciding whether unique species of plants and animals remain extant and whether humanity will be able to live from the soil in the future. The livelihoods and continued survival of small-scale farmers in Africa largely depend on how changing climate conditions affect the fertility of their soil. To enable the farmers to develop resiliency and adapt to the changing climate, AbTF launched CAR-iSMa, a co-operative project with a total budget of around EUR2.8m.

The climate adaption project is being supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and is being implemented together with the agriculture organisation LDC Suisse and with three CmiA-verified cotton companies: CIDT from Côte d’Ivoire, JFS from Mozambique, and LDC from Zambia.

Soil & More Impacts (SMI), a company that provides services for sustainable agriculture with a focus on soil and composting, is supporting the project by offering advice on how to increase soil fertility. SMI is also working with three cotton associations in Africa to start providing small-scale farmers with training in composting and regenerative agriculture.

“Through the CAR-iSMa project, we are making an important contribution to climate protection and are assisting small-scale farmers in Africa in developing strategies to counteract the effects of climate change. Our goal is to enable both current and future generations of farmers to earn a living from the cotton produced in their soil. To achieve this goal, it is crucial to sustainably manage soil as a natural resource, which is why that is our primary focus in this project,” says Tina Stridde, managing director of the Aid by Trade Foundation.

Britta Deutsch, head project manager for CAR-iSMa who travelled to Côte d’Ivoire to set up the climate adaption project, adds: “Soil is crucial to the livelihoods of many small-scale farming families. The farmers are suffering as climate change renders the soil increasingly parched and infertile, and they have little access to the knowledge and means they need in order to adapt accordingly. Through an on-site assessment, we were able to confirm that the cotton farmers are interested in learning more about composting and other aspects of regenerative agriculture because they want to reduce erosion, conserve soil fertility, and ensure the long-term productivity of their soil.”

Innovative approaches like self-cultured compost microbes and pyrolysis—which produces vegetable carbon, thereby capturing carbon in the soil for the long term as well as improving the soil structure and water-retention capacity—are planned to be tested as part of the project before being rolled out in
CmiA’s wider network if possible. The plan is to enhance 92,000 hectares of land by improving soil fertility.

Another area of focus is a transnational and inter-organisational knowledge exchange between the participating cotton associations. To scale up the long-term benefits of the lessons learnt and of the positive experiences, successful approaches should be implemented throughout the CmiA network in Africa after the end of the project. In this way, AbTF aims to continue improving the small-scale farmers’ production practices.

The CAR-iSMa project is part of the Sub-Saharan Cotton Initiative, which supports four public–private partnerships under a global programme pursuing sustainability and value creation in agricultural supply chains under the umbrella of SEWOH, a German special initiative for a world without hunger.

Earlier this year, following a decade-long partnership, AbTF and Better Cotton said they are to discontinue the sale of CmiA-verified cotton as Better Cotton at the end of 2022 – and create a new set-up from 2023 that will focus on joint projects for smallholder farmers in Africa.