New Project in Mozambique

Kenya, Rwanda, and now Tanzania: Many countries in Africa have already banned plastic bags. In Germany, on the other hand, it appears that a similar ban will take effect only in 2020. Plastic waste is a big problem in Africa, and Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) introduced a new project in April 2019 to address this issue.

A collection system for empty plastic pesticide containers was created in Mozambique in close collaboration with local cotton company JFS. In April, the company has established 220 collection points for people to drop off their used containers, which it then sells to a regional recycling company. The resulting sales revenue benefit the village residents, who receive a small amount of money for every container they turn in. Any additional profit flows back into the project, ensuring its continuation  in the long term. This programme offers up to 20,000 farmers from the surrounding villages an opportunity to supplement their income while protecting the environment by properly disposing of the containers which will be recycled by a local company.

The collection points are staffed by over 220 women, including cotton farmers and others from the village communities. They have been trained as eco-activists and have learnt how to handle the canisters safely. For this  task they were provided with special equipment including t-shirts, training materials, face masks, gloves, and soap for washing up after work.

The project is gaining publicity thanks to radio shows, an explanatory video, and, naturally, the eco-activists themselves. As a result, the farmers and the other village residents have become more cognisant of how they deal with their plastic waste, learning how important proper disposal is for them and the environment. Venancio Airone is glad to be among the eco-activists . The cotton farmer reports how well the project has been received by his colleagues, adding, “And it is good for me because I dispose of the containers differently now, too. This is much better than burning them or throwing them into the river.”

28-year-old cotton farmer Elis Pedro Manuel sees the collection and recycling project as a step in the right direction as well. “It is good for us farmers and for our soil. In the past, we would have to bury or burn the containers. Today, we know how harmful that is for our environment and how it makes our soil less fertile”, she says.

When we think of climate protection, a few things generally spring to mind: We should fly less to cut CO2. Also, if we eat less meat, less land will be needed to produce animal feed. The way that people use land does indeed have an enormous influence on the climate. That is why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has dedicated a special report to this subject. The report states that people are already using around 70 percent of the world's surface area (excluding areas covered in ice). They are using these areas to grow food, animal feed, and textile fibre, to manage forests, and to produce energy. If we take a look at how this generally occurs, a worrying picture emerges: Valuable forests are being cut down, for cattle grazing or to grow oil palm, for example. Not a nice image! For this reason, when we use valuable land, we should do so in the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way possible.

What can we do as consumers? A lot—for example, we can be more environmentally aware when we buy food and clothing.  Is it really time for a new T-shirt? And if so, where does it actually come from? How is the cotton in the T-shirt grown? A huge proportion of cotton harvested comes from monocultures in Brazil and the United States—gigantic machines and poisonous defoliants are used in the process.

Luckily, there is another way. About a million smallholder farmers from eleven African countries are currently being trained in sustainable and efficient cultivation methods by Cotton made in Africa. Growing cotton ensures the livelihood of many African smallholder farmers and their families. CmiA cooperates with certified cotton companies on the ground. Trained cotton company staff teaches the smallholder farmers how they can grow cotton in a way that is as kind as possible to the environment, and which methods can help them to use their resources efficiently. “Before CmiA, I used to plant the cotton haphazardly, but now I know about good agricultural practices says Miriam Muhindo, a cotton farmer from Uganda. Miriam has learnt valuable expertise about cotton growing in the agricultural trainings. This has allowed her to increase not just her harvest, but also her income. “I now consider early land preparation, early planting, proper plant population, early weed control and proper pest control for improved yield”, she explains.

Gentle pest control, natural rainfall rather than irrigation, and using crop rotation for soil fertility—that is what smart and sustainable land use looks like. This is how things can be done if we want to protect the environment and the climate, and also buy a new T-shirt sometimes.

Taking notes, understanding instructions, calculating income and expenditure: In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, many people are unable to read, write, or perform simple arithmetic. Often the nearest school is just too far away, the school buildings are deteriorating and barely usable, there are not enough teachers, or it is simply too expensive for parents to send their children to school. Education as basic knowledge is so important to them: it opens up to them a way out of poverty into a better life.

One of the main focuses of Cotton made in Africa is therefore in this area: access to education should be easier or even made possible for children and adults alike. Smallholder cotton farmers learn why they prefer to cultivate their plants using sustainable methods and at the same time improve their own living conditions and those of their families in agricultural training courses and farmer business courses. “Literacy for adults helps farmers keep records of their agricultural activities and sell their cotton better,” explains Waita Simeyi. He is a cotton farmer and teacher of functional adult literacy (FAL) in Uganda and teaches other smallholder farmers how to read and write.

Waita thus contributes to sustainable development in his country. No progress without basic education. That is why it is so important that as many people as possible, especially in rural Africa, have the opportunity to learn. Basic schooling makes it easier for smallholder farmers to take full advantage of agricultural training and other support measures. “It helps them apply the training program for smallholder farmers, improve their agricultural skills, and increase yields through the use of efficient farming methods,” says Waita.

The result is obvious: higher yields, a better market position, and a better life for the entire family. Something that Waita was also able to experience firsthand: “My own crop yields have also increased. My livelihood has improved so much that I was able to build a house and send my two children to school." Waita has recognized the advantages of being able to read and write and empower many other smallholder farmers and fellow human beings in Uganda while serving as a role model.

Since the Rana Plaza garment factory building collapsed in 2013 burying more than 1,100 people, more and more of us are asking: Where do my T-shirts actually come from? Under what conditions are they produced? How do the people involved in producing my pullover live and work? What effects does our consumption have on our environment and the people behind our clothing? These and other questions have been gaining more attention over recent years. As a result, more and more of us want clothing that does not harm the environment or the people who have produced it.

If we want to protect the environment and improve production conditions, the message is clear: Less is more, and seals help in the search for sustainable products!

If garments bear a Cotton made in Africa label, consumers who buy them are supporting cotton farmers in Africa and protecting the environment. The Cotton made in Africa standard stands for sustainably produced cotton from Africa. The organisation works with a million cotton farmers in eleven Sub-Saharan African countries and certifies the work of smallholder farmers in the fields, the processing of the cotton raw material in ginning (deseeding) factories, and African cotton companies, which train the smallholders on site. Madeleine Tringal from Mafa-Kilda in Northern Cameroon regularly takes part in this training programme. One of the things she learns is the best crop rotation for the fields, to make the soil more fertile. “Thanks to the training I can plan well what I will grow on my field. This has the advantage for us as a family that we can use our resources more purposefully and thus even save money. In addition, the coaching has strengthened our cohesion in our farmer’s group. ” The training sessions help Madeleine to earn a livelihood from farming for herself and her five children. “The coaching has also brought our farmers’ group closer together”, explains Madeleine. The training is specially geared to the needs of the women participating.

For Madeleine and the other female cotton farmers participating in the programme, life has changed radically - for the better. They have more money in their pockets, they are more independent, and they have been able to strengthen their role as women in society. Textile companies can support this by partnering with the initiative, and we can support all this as consumers by buying a product with the CmiA label.

They feed and care for the entire family, work in the fields and carry heavy loads: in sub-Saharan Africa, women do a lot of the work in the fields, in the household, look after the well-being of the whole family, and yet they are dependent on their husbands. The reason: Women often lack rights, a position in society, and their own financial resources. In developing countries, unfortunately, they are still the most vulnerable to poverty and have fewer opportunities to receive an education.

This is where Nyambe comes in with her work. She has worked as a women’s representative for CGL (Parrogate) in Zambia, the land of waterfalls in southern Africa, since 2014 . Parrogate is a cotton company and certified partner of Cotton made in Africa (CmiA). As part of the cooperation between CGL and CmiA, Nyambe trains smallholder farmers in farming and agricultural topics. “I visit the women regularly and train them in topics such as equal rights, basic business knowledge, and educate them about child labor.” Most of the women did not have the opportunity to attend school. She knows exactly how to reach the women who often can neither read nor write: For this reason, the employee of CGL uses picture books in which typical situations from women’s everyday lives are depicted. In this way, Nyambe can explain to them even better how women can realize their own projects and become role models for others. “When the women see the illustrations, they can change perspective and understand the subject of equality much better.” In addition to offering these training courses, Nyambe is the contact person for special projects, the so-called community cooperation projects, which are supported by the Aid by Trade Foundation. This enables women’s groups to obtain start-up financing for their own projects. “My job is to write proposals and plan budgets on behalf of the women’s groups. The women share their ideas with me, I supervise their projects and keep track of them,” says the young woman.

The women take away a lot from Nyambe’s training: They learn to grow certified cotton, become more independent, and develop new project ideas. Nyambe was particularly impressed by one group of women. The women she helped after were given seed capital to open a clothing store. But they made much more out of it: They used their business knowledge and offered not only clothing but also food. “It was moving for me to see. The women showed me that they are independent and can make decisions themselves that benefit them and their business.”

Nyambe can be proud of her success and what she has achieved so far. “My greatest wish is to raise more money for the women’s groups so that I can help them change their lives in society. I want to give women hope who are trying to make a living from agriculture,” she says. “Empowering women helps the entire family.” Training and project support, as provided by Nyambe, are a central component of the Cotton made in Africa program. In this way, the initiative complements the measures laid down in the CmiA criteria for equal rights for women and men.

The work of the women’s representatives is co-financed by a donation from the Ana Kwa Ana Foundation. Ana Kwa Ana is a foundation established in 2009 by Janina Özen-Otto, daughter of AbTF founder Prof. Dr. Michael Otto: Hand in Hand), which cares for African HIV/AIDS orphans and street children and empowers women’s rights and their independence.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, improving the living conditions of smallholder farmers is directly associated with the empowerment of women. Female cotton farmers do most of the work in the field and at home, but often do no possess the same rights and position as men. Against this backdrop, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) advocates women's rights and their position in society as well as in business together with local partners, the CmiA certified cotton companies. To enable women to step into economic and social independence, CmiA and its partners are helping to set up women clubs, supporting income-generating projects for women's groups and implement gender equality measures within the cotton growing areas. 

Having equal rights, an own bank account or land as well as the liberty to spend the money they work for on the fields and in the households is still a challenge for many women in rural Africa. This is why CmiA invests in women empowerment activities. Together with cotton companies and partners CmiA sets up women’s clubs, gives financial support for women empowerment measures and initiates positions for gender officers within CmiA certified cotton companies. Gender Officers help to kick-start income-generating activities for women clubs and support them implementing their projects. Women clubs are founded as a result of joint cotton farming and give women the opportunity to organize themselves, set up own projects, earn an additional income and become role models for other women.

Just recently, our colleague Nina Schöttle, Junior Project Manager responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation at the Aid by Trade Foundation, travelled to Zambia to attend Focus Group Discussions with women clubs and a Gender Officer Workshop. The aim was to monitor and evaluate the impact of CmiA's women empowerment measures. The focus group discussions were conducted with three different women’s clubs – the Tuyandane women‘s club in Nampundwe region and the Shakunkuma women‘s club in Nampundwe region who have both set up goat rearing as well as the Choolwe women‘s club in Sinazongwe region who created a tailoring project. All clubs have a constitution and designated roles, such as a chair lady, a secretary, a treasurer, trustees and executive members. They have regular meetings, usually once per week.

During the Focus Group Discussions, different aspects such as the club activities, the personal motivation and consequences of being a club member for individual members as well as continuous challenges and areas of improvement have been discussed. The members concluded that being organized in a group and getting support by a gender officer helps them to exchange ideas and knowledge. They are teaching each other in different skills and support each other also emotionally. As a consequence, they are put in the position to only increase their income but also gain more autonomy and self-confidence.

To successfully set up women’s clubs and implement their projects, gender officers – such as Merit Tembo (Alliance cotton company), Violet Mandauka (Highland cotton trading) and Nyambe Muchindu (CGL) – play a crucial role in Zambia. The three of them give moral support when the clubs are facing difficulties and give practical advice for the implementation of activities. They help the clubs to structure their ideas and to make solid plans for the future. The trainings gender officers conduct goes far beyond cotton training and comprises also topics such as HIV/AIDS and gender, basic economic skills (financial and household planning), nutrition, child labour, safety issues (e.g. not to spray during pregnancy) and last but not least gender roles at home.

When asked about the perception of gender training topics among farmers, Merit, Violet and Nyambe could identify a significant shift since they started their work: Several years ago, farmers were uninterested and unwilling to learn about gender. Today, they are perceived and adopted better in general, the gender officers reported. This shift can be also traced back to a change in the farmers base: More women now have their own contracts with the cotton companies. Additionally, there are also more female lead farmers who guide fellow farmers in sustainable and efficient farming techniques. As a consequence, an increased number of women attend trainings, speak up and give input during the trainings, Merit, Violet and Nyambe explained. Overall, about 16% of CmiA’s farmers base is female.

By implementing women empowerment measures, CmiA aims to help strengthen the rights and position of women in society.  The income earned as a group is kept by the treasurer and if a certain amount is reached, the money is equally distributed among the members or reinvested to grow their business, help other women in need or finance school fees for their kids. 

Nina Schöttle concluded: "I was deeply impressed by the female farmers in Zambia who set up their own businesses to become financially independent. I am happy that with the promotion of women's projects, we can support them in kick-starting their business ideas. I was impressed to see the great motivation of the female farmers to realize their own projects for the benefit of their families and learn more about the impact the gender officers have on the empowerment of women in rural Zambia. "

In 2018, the gender officers in Zambia have been financially supported by the Ana Kwa Ana Foundation, a foundation for women and children in need initiated by Janina Özen-Otto, daughter of CmiA founder Prof. Dr. Michael Otto. The women clubs get additional support by Rewe Group and Corman All gender activities are realized in close cooperation with the local cotton companies such as Alliance, Highland Cotton Trading and CGL in Zambia.


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