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Mozambique’s Government is undertaking an initiative it hopes will enable it to be the first country in the world to produce 100% Better Cotton, revitalising its cotton industry and securing access to new markets.

Cotton production is an important industry in Mozambique, contributing to around one-fifth of its agricultural exports, according to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). In the 2016-17 season, 170,000 smallholders, who typically farm less than a hectare each, accounted for 90% of the country’s total production.

But despite a production peak of 182,000 tonnes in 2012, on average, production has remained considerably low over the last five years. In recent years, yields have fluctuated considerably, leaving many ginneries operating below capacity and unable to adequately plan for the future, BCI says. And while average yields have progressed from 400 to 600 tonnes per hectare, they are being held back by issues such as poor quality seed and pest infestations.

There is, however, considerable scope to expand the country’s cotton industry, and in 2011, the Cotton Institute of Mozambique (IAM), the government body that oversees the cotton sector, launched a Cotton Value Chain Revitalization Plan to increase both productivity and sustainability.

A renewed focus on sustainability has since led IAM to engage the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), presenting an opportunity for Mozambique’s producers to secure access to new markets, as well as to collaborate with local cotton organisations to improve production methods.

In 2014, IAM and BCI signed a strategic partnership agreement, which embeds the Better Cotton principles and criteria within Mozambique’s national regulations for cotton growing. This marks the first time a national government has adopted the Better Cotton standard, putting Mozambique on course to be the first country to produce 100% Better Cotton.

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BCI also engaged OLAM, the world’s second largest cotton merchant, to become the first BCI implementing partner in Mozambique. And it has implemented a capacity building programme in Mozambique that monitors the nation’s cotton supply chain. It focuses on investing in capacity building upfront, rather than simply checking outcomes through licensing.

The work to date has yielded results, and in 2014, the number of Mozambique farmers growing Better Cotton jumped to 75,000, producing 9,500 tonnes of cotton lint on 52,000 hectares. According to BCI data from that year, their productivity was dramatically higher than for comparable conventional cotton farmers: yields were 57% higher and profitability was 65% higher. In 2015, the number of BCI licensed farmers increased to 78,912, with a further 17,000 additional farmers receiving capacity building support from BCI.

As part of its work with BCI, Mozambique is now developing its own national standard for sustainable cotton production, which will mirror the principles and criteria developed by BCI, and include additional sustainability criteria related to the parts of the cotton supply chain not covered by the BCI standard.

Following this, the verification and licensing process is expected to be transferred from BCI to IAM. Both are currently training and developing certification bodies based in Mozambique to carry out the external third-party audits.

Because the BCI Standard is embedded within this national-level standard and verification process, BCI says it will recognise Mozambique cotton through a ‘benchmarking’ agreement. Similar agreements exist with other cotton certification schemes, including Cotton Made In Africa (CmiA), Australia’s myBMP and Brazil’s Algodão Brasileira Responsável (ABR). This agreement will ensure cotton grown in Mozambique by BCI licensed farmers can be sold as certified Better Cotton on international markets.