June 1, 2013 marked the eleventh World Farmers’ Day, founded by UNESCO and the UN to call attention to the importance of agriculture for the global population. We would like to take this opportunity to thank those people our Cotton made in Africa Initiative is all about — African smallholder cotton farmers.
Around 2.2 million smallholder farmers in Western and South-eastern Africa grow cotton. All together around 15.4 million people earn a living directly from cotton farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Three million people are already benefiting from the Cotton made in Africa Initiative. Its goal is to empower participating smallholder farmers to improve their social, economic and ecological living conditions and that of their families by growing cotton.
Yaya Arouna from Benin is one of them. He represents the 435,000 cotton farmers in five countries who are currently partners of Cotton made in Africa. Yaya Arouna lives in the small village of Sekrou in the Northwestern part of the West African Republic of Benin. He has grown cotton for over ten years now and been an initiative partner from the beginning on. Working the fields is exhausting. It starts with the ploughing of the fields in April and lasts until the ripe capsules can be harvested in November and December. Yaya Arouna takes care of the earth he is working on and the people depending on it by using modern cultivation methods that are trained within CmiA.
His life has changed since he began working with Cotton made in Africa: “My soil was exhausted, depleted. Thanks to the initiative I learned how to improve the quality of my field.” Sustainable growing methods such as crop rotation restored the soil. Yaya also enriches his field with manure and legumes. His production per hectare is above average for the region. “I earn more than my fellow villagers who did not join Cotton made in Africa”, reports Yaya Arouna, who has a family of seven children to feed. He is happy to share his knowledge with the other farmers. His father, Orou Yaya, 90-years-old and respected as a wise man in the village, knows: “Education makes a farmer a better farmer. I didn’t go to school, but I do understand that education means progress.” Unlike his father, Yaya Arouna attended school for eight years and speaks three languages: his mother tongue Yom, regionally widespread Dendi, and French.
Education is a central issue addressed by the Aid by Trade Foundation. Because cotton farmers are what the Cotton made in Africa initiative is all about, the foundation invests in personalized training and societal development. By promoting educational infrastructure in rural regions, the AbTF is helping educate the children of cotton-growing families. By the end of 2012, the foundation together with partners had been instrumental in building two schools, planting 14 school gardens to improve pupils’ food security, setting up 40 canteens at schools, awarding 300 scholarships and distributing 20,000 school uniforms — in Benin alone.
On the occasion of Albert Watson’s visit in Benin Yaya emphasizes: „To meet the photographer Albert Watson was an amazing experience for me. I had the chance to show him that my life is much more easier for me and my family since I joined CmiA. [Not only me but also] my seven children profit from the initiative: I am glad that I can send them to school – thanks to Cotton made in Africa – so that they can once become doctors or engeneers. Mr Watson was very much interested in everything. He is now like me part of the Cotton made in Africa family. With his photos he supports our work, life and that our cotton will become more popular.”