While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many in-person meetings with our partners throughout the world, our team was thrilled to get together in person again and to visit partners across Africa after so many digital meetings. The first stop was Cameroon, where the goal was to get an on-site overview of the joint projects with Sodecoton, a CmiA verified cotton company. In addition to visiting a health centre and newly constructed school buildings, we met with farmers’ co-operatives to discuss exciting initiatives for economic and financial independence. Our second stop was auditor training in Kenya, followed by a meeting in South Africa to discuss the further improvement of our data management during the verification process.
The cross-Africa trip started in Cameroon. After a successful meeting in Garoua with representatives of the CmiA-verified cotton company Sodecoton, we accompanied our partner to the rural cotton community areas in order to gain personal insight into the projects being implemented under the CmiA Community Cooperation Programme. The first destinations were the villages of Badjouma, Héri, and Bouba Djara, where we visited two school projects and one health centre. Improving the educational and medical infrastructure in rural Africa are central in Cotton made in Africa’s Community Cooperation Programme. While the newly built and well-equipped health centre with nurses and a small pharmacy is set to make a valuable contribution to improving healthcare in the project areas, the construction of the school building with its sanitation facilities serves to enable children to attend school who could otherwise not do so because the distance is too great or the infrastructure too poor. Village visits included a lively exchange with the village communities.
Financial independence and economic improvements for the small-scale farmers are key topics for Cotton made in Africa. They were also the reason for the next leg of the trip, to N’Djuré and Pintchoumba, where visits were made to a micro-financing institution and to a co-operative formed by local farmers. Both initiatives have made key steps towards improving the living and working conditions of the community. In addition to the grain silo – which was built by the farmers’ co-operative and is being used by many farmers in the vicinity, ensuring nutritional and financial security when grain prices rise – the micro-financing institution primarily extends credit for agricultural investments to its members. Founded by several farmers’ groups, it directly benefits the farmers in the area and already has around 12,000 clients, primarily farmers, all with their own bank accounts.
We are grateful to Sodecoton for its hospitality and for the inspiring meetings with the village communities and are happy about the joint activities on site and the many successfully conducted projects.
Verifications: Auditor Training With AfriCert in Kenya and Data Management Meeting With Vera Solutions in South Africa
Regular verifications of our partners’ work in the cotton fields and in the ginneries play a crucial role for the Cotton made in Africa standards to ensure that CmiA’s standards requirements are properly met. This approach relies on regular communication with the independent auditors to familiarise them with updates to the system, for instance through a one-day training session for auditors, conducted by CmiA’s verification management team in Kenya this year. The workshop’s purpose was to introduce CmiA Standard Vol. 4 to new AfriCert auditors and to ensure that veteran auditors fully understood our standard’s requirements before conducting the verifications. A total of 13 auditors took part in a hybrid session. The workshop covered a long list of topics, including the introduction of the new CmiA Assurance Manual and CmiA Appeals Procedure as well as practical instruction in the Assurance Platform, which auditors can use to compose their audit reports.
To keep developing and improving our processes, a feedback round was also conducted regarding the audits already completed under the standard’s latest version, CmiA Standard Vol. 4. The participants’ input and discussions accelerated the development of the Offline Data Collection Tool, an app intended to simplify the audit process, allowing it to be even more closely adapted to the auditors’ needs. By facilitating this knowledge exchange, the training event therefore not only benefited the auditors but also helped the verification management team in its quest to continually improve and refine CmiA’s processes and standards. We would like to thank the AfriCert team for the successful workshop and are looking forward to our continued cooperation.
Finally, we reached South Africa, where we met up with the team from Vera Solutions, a company for cloud-based and mobile solutions. For more than four years, this partnership has enabled us to digitally collect data and analyses pertaining to our work, thereby significantly increasing the quality of the verifications and audits. The goal of the workshop was to develop a roadmap for providing auditors with offline support during their assignments, which often take them to the most remote regions of rural Africa.