The aim of Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) is to verifiably and transparently provide improved living conditions for the smallholder cotton farmers and their families in Sub Saharan Africa. The analysis of production data and representative surveys in Zambia and Zimbabwe show the first qualitative results such as increases in yield for CmiA smallholder farmers by 23%. However, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) like other organizations faces some challenges in measuring the success of development policy work.
In order to contribute significantly to reducing poverty and to environmental protection, the initiative focuses on measurable improvements in social, environmental, and economic standards of living. For example, sustainable farming methods such as measures for maintaining and improving soil fertility, pesticide management, or education are measured, among other things. Another key factor is the development of the crop yields.
In the majority of program countries however, there is no reliable production data because the shape and size of a smallholder cotton field can be very irregular. The prerequisite for a valid measurement of effectiveness are precise hectares sizes because only then can the crop yields and the income of farmers be determined. CmiA has now introduced wide-scale use of GPS devices to resolve this issue. Another problem is that the quantities produced per hectare often are difficult to record. In many cases, the farmers sell their cotton to different dealers or pass it on to other family members to avoid repaying the loans to the cotton company. Their yield data are thus often led by their interests and can only be verified with difficulty. Depending on the context, the yield can therefore only be determined reliably by professionally trained harvest appraisers.
Since word about the attractiveness of the CmiA program has spread, for example, in Zambia, that almost every farmer benefits from the training program and about continued support by CmiA, the selection of appropriate control groups has become a major challenge. Further difficulties lie in the comparability of the control groups, for example, by different climate zones or different seed qualities. Roger Peltzer, Program Director of the Competitive African Cotton Initiative (COMPACI), which works closely with CmiA in implementing and evaluating the program, explains: “Offering reliable information about the impact of our work for such a broad-based project is the result of a learning process spanning many years. Having gone through this process, we can now gather substantial results based on the representative surveys up to the end of 2014 conducted in all participating countries. In the future, it will therefore be possible for us to provide annual information on cotton production figures, socio-economic data such as school boards in the CmiA cotton production areas as well as on the implementation of sustainable CmiA cultivation techniques.”