“Tackling the pressing issues together: climate change, cotton seed quality, and farmer training”


The African Cotton Foundation (ACF) is an association of private-sector cotton companies and traders who believe that a combination of pre-competitive co-operation and multi-stakeholder collaboration is the most effective way of addressing the challenges facing the African cotton sector. In this interview, Belinda Edmonds discusses the most pressing challenges and how ACF plans to meet them.

What makes ACF unique compared to other business associations?

ACF is unique because it lets private-sector companies that are normally very competitive share their expertise and also invest in projects they have helped to design. By leveraging the very significant delivery infrastructure of our members’ extension services, we are able to ensure that multi-stakeholder resources can be facilitated, co-ordinated, and delivered with maximum impact.

In which way can a collaboration between ACF and AbTF be of benefit to the African cotton sector?

ACF and AbTF have a shared commitment to and investment in improving the wellbeing of smallholder farming communities and protecting the environment. Our collaboration provides an important producer-to-consumer forum that improves the stakeholders’ understanding of expectations and challenges across the value chain. This results in the collaborative development of practical interventions to improve social, economic, and environmental sustainability from farmer to consumer. It also supports our efforts to become a repository of best practices so that the lessons, materials, and achievements of a wide range of development projects can form the foundation for continuous improvement in the deployment, effectiveness, and impact of projects.

What are the top three pressing issues for the African cotton sector, and how will ACF support its members in tackling these issues?

Our key priorities are understanding the potential impact of climate change and learning how to mitigate and adapt to it. Erratic weather already disrupts the farming calendar in several African countries, and it is expected that the frequency of unusual weather events will increase. As part of a public–private partnership, ACF worked with Wageningen University & Research to map climate risks and opportunities for cotton and other important crops in Africa. This provides us with a framework on which to develop country-specific adaptation and mitigation strategies. We are also focussing on carbon sequestration. We are trying to find practical and cost-effective ways of measuring this and are developing a system of monetising carbon credits to increase and diversify farmers’ incomes. The quality and genetic potential of cotton seed are also major concerns. In many African countries, yields remain limited by the use of genetically inferior seeds, and many of them may become even less viable with changing weather conditions. ACF is actively working with technical partners to invigorate African cotton seed research facilities and to encourage the development of high-yield, climate-adapted varieties that produce cotton fibre in qualities that meet market demands. Enhancing and expanding farmer training is an ongoing priority. There is significant urgency to ensure that farmers’ income is not jeopardised by substantially increased and highly volatile input costs, in particular for fertilisers. In conjunction with AbTF, ACF is planning to update our training through technical workshops focussed on the latest successful regional and international practices in soil regeneration and natural pest management. We are also working to ensure greater access to and improved financial services for farmers as well as the introduction of environmentally sensitive mechanised solutions that reduce the laboriousness of smallholder cotton production. Both will benefit all African smallholder farmers, especially women and young farmers.

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