The Berlin film maker Züli Aladaĝ is a Kurd born in Turkey. He is very familiar with the subject of integration. His 2005 drama Wut (anger) and the feature film Die Fremde (The foreigner) both deal with it. He has now written and directed a documentary and feature film on behalf of the save our nature foundation about the African continent and the Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative. He describes how the project came about, the challenges he encountered and the lessons he has learnt from his work in Africa.
Mr. Aladaĝ, could you tell us first of all briefly how this project came about and what prompted you to do it.
Aladaĝ: About eighteen months ago I met Thilo Graf Rothkirch. He's the chairman of save our nature and one of the most successful producers in Germany. He told me about his idea of producing a documentary and feature film on this subject -- and before long we were talking about me as director. As a film maker I feel a commitment to entertainment but also to social issues. So this project was naturally very interesting for me. Africa has occupied us Europeans for a long time, and yet we still make lots of mistakes. We asked ourselves what kind of impact initiatives like Cotton made in Africa, which strengthen trade with Africa, can possibly have.
And what was the answer?
Aladağ: A huge one! I was surprised to discover how such a large network could have developed in such a short time. The initiative has only been in existence for six years but the system is already working. The local growers identify strongly with CmiA and are proud to be part of the initiative. Not surprising: they have been able to increase their harvests by an average of 40 per cent, payments come on time, and they receive training to increase their yields even more. They are part of a reliable system -- and that motivates them.
Your documentary will also be about Cotton made in Africa.
Aladağ: Yes, the documentary explains the complex functioning of CmiA. The initiative takes a holistic approach: the cotton growers are given training in sustainable methods of cultivation and at the same time they have the possibility of selling their cotton on the world market through CmiA's partners. Together with the partners in Africa, CmiA helps people to stand on their own two feet, use their potential and break out of the cycle of poverty. This is what we show in the documentary.
Where will the film be shown?
Aladaĝ: The film will be made available to schools together with accompanying material. Then it will be up to the teachers to make their pupils aware of topics like Africa and sustainable trade. We are currently in the final phase and I believe we have a very interesting film. I would also learn a lot from it -- if I hadn't made it myself!
Apart from the documentary you're also working on a feature film on the same subject. Can you tell us something about it?
Aladaĝ: A little bit. The film tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy whose family lives from cotton growing. One day his father dies and it turns out that he wasn't his biological father. The boy sets off on a journey to the big city to find his real father. In the meantime, bad harvests and rising prices cause difficulties for his mother. The film is about the dependence of people on agriculture.
And that's where Cotton in Africa comes into the picture?
Aladaĝ: Yes. At some point the boy's mother hears about an initiative to help cotton growers to help themselves. The principle behind Cotton made in Africa is explained. The film shows how the mother manages to use her potential to improve her situation herself. There are some small successes and the future looks hopeful. At the end, for example, the village school that had burnt down at the beginning of the film, is rebuilt.
And the boy?
Aladaĝ: He finds his feet in the city. He even lives for a while with Bushmen. At the end he returns to his roots in the village. And that's all I'm going to tell you!
How did the idea for the film come about?
Aladaĝ: The basis for the screenplay was formed while we were travelling and filming the documentary. We spoke to lots of people in Benin and Zambia to get a feeling for their problems. We had a couple of ideas but it was not until a few weeks after our return that we were able to channel our impressions and develop the story.
You are an experienced film maker. What special challenges did this project present?
Aladaĝ: As Europeans we were faced with a key question from the outset: how could we talk credibly about Africa although we didn't live there and didn't have the same problems as the people there? We wanted to be truthful and not make a film about Africa through European eyes. That's why the story is told by an African and there is no "white identifying figure".
What impressions of Africa remain?
Aladağ: I was not surprised, but the optimism and the unassuming nature of the people are amazing. Their enjoyment of life, particularly the children, is inspiring. They were always the first to come up to us and pose before the camera. And they are also the key to Africa's hope for a better future. Africa needs a new self-awareness so as to meet the rest of the world on equal terms -- and education is the only way that they will be able to do so.
Finally, when can we expect to see the two films?
Aladaĝ: The documentary will be distributed to schools in early 2012. The feature film should be released two or three months later.
Education is the key to sustainable development. This is one of the basic principles of the Cotton made in Africa initiative and reason enough for the Otto Group to join the Demand Alliance and help finance an adult literacy project in Burkina Faso.
Illiteracy in Burkina Faso runs at around 71 per cent. The fact that almost three quarters of the population cannot read or write is a great handicap to the country's economic development and repeatedly presents Cotton made in Africa smallholders with quite specific problems. Many cannot remember the contents of the training courses, for example, because they cannot take notes or read the training material. This means that a lot of potential is going to waste. The literacy project will help these smallholders to help themselves.
The public-private partnership (PPP) project was launched in autumn 2009 through Cotton made in Africa by the fashion company Apart, Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (German Investment and Development Company) and Welthungerhilfe. They were joined early this year by the Otto Group, which is providing concrete support for the work in Burkina Faso. "Improving literacy is key to a sustainable development process," says Andreas Streubig, head of Corporate Responsibility in the Otto Group. Some 5,000 adults in the centre south region have had the opportunity to date to attend evening classes to learn to read and write. They reap the rewards on a daily basis, being able now for the first time to read the instructions for fertilisers, for example. Women in particular are taking advantage of this opportunity.
Cotton made in Africa is not only a supporter of the sustainable cultivation of African cotton but also sees itself as a broker for such PPP projects, which call on the combined efforts of businesses and public organisations to strengthen the social infrastructure in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Zambia and Malawi.
On Tuesday, 19th of April 2011, an alliance of the renowned entrepreneurs Dr. Michael Otto, Dr. Christian Jacobs and Michael R. Neumann was officially announced in a press conference held in Hamburg. SUSTAINEO is the name of this strategic initiative which strives for a stronger involvement of global market dynamics in development approaches to enable smallholder farmers in coffee, cocoa and cotton to improve their income and living conditions. Furthermore, SUSTAINEO aims to establish a strategic dialogue with policy makers. An intensive exchange of experiences between the foundations Hanns R Neumann Stiftung, Jacobs Foundation and Aid by Trade Foundation is foreseen to continuously improve the quality of work and document its impact.
Population growth, surface erosion and other use of cultivated areas make the supply of agricultural products a major global challenge. At the same time, the production of coffee, cotton and cocoa is of outstanding economic and social importance to many developing countries. Approx. 250 million people are depending on the production of said commodities which are primarily grown in poor rural areas. A professionalization of the entrepreneurial activities of smallholder farmers is a great opportunity to increase the typically very low income achieved.
"The demand for sustainably obtained products is going to increase more and more. By pooling our strengths in form of an alliance, we want to achieve that especially smallholder farmers contribute to the required supply volumes and benefit from an increasing demand by means of more productivity and better access to markets", states Dr. Michael Otto.
"In the project work of our foundations, we encounter comparable social and economic framework conditions and challenges when it comes to implementation and achievement of our objectives. In order to be able to enhance efficient and sustainable development cooperation we want to place our projects at new quality levels", says Michael R. Neumann.
"It is substantial to provide access to education to the children of smallholder farmers and to allow the communities to recognize education as necessary prerequisite for economic advance. It is this approach that I want to anchor more firmly by establishing SUSTAINEO", states Dr. J. Christian Jacobs.
SUSTAINEO was warmly welcomed by the Minister of International Development Cooperation of Germany, Mr. Dirk Niebel.
'Cotton made in Africa' Initiative's Positive Water Reduction
Research Finds CmiA's Sustainable Farming & Rainwater Usage Reduces Water-Use by 1,585 Gallons per T-Shirt
An independent study conducted by the WWF evidenced that the "Cotton made in Africa" (CmiA) initiative's sustainable farming techniques saves up to 1,585 gallons of water for the production of cotton needed per one t-shirt. This immense saving is derived from the fact that within the CmiA initiative, only rainwater is used for cotton production. The efficient use of rainwater is part of CmiA's sustainable farming techniques that are demonstrated during the training of smallholder cotton farmers within the CmiA initiative. Overall, the efficient and environmentally friendly farming practices introduced have tripled the yield, generating more income for the small farmers in Sub-Sahara Africa.
The June 15 webinar will be on production, focusing on CSR benefits and the June 16 webinar will be on sourcing, focusing on supply chain benefits.
The webinars are organised by CmiA in cooperation with SAI that officially represents CmiA in the US since March 2010, introducing CmiA to American companies and helping them to start using the initiative's socially responsible cotton.
June 15, 2011 - 12:00PM EDT
Webinar on production, focusing on CSR benefits. >>Register now
Presenter: Craig Moss (SAI) & Tina Stridde/Christian Barthel (CmiA)
June 16, 2011 - 4:00PM EDT
Webinar on sourcing, focusing on supply chain benefits >>Register now
Presenter: Craig Moss (SAI) & Tina Stridde/Christian Barthel (CmiA)
To read more go to: http://www.sa-intl.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewPage&pageID=1109&nodeID=1
* SAI: Social Accountability International
The Aid by Trade Foundation welcomes a new member to its Board of Trustees. James Shikwati, renowned for his criticism of classic development aid, will provide assistance in the Foundation's activities and the achievement of its future objectives.
The charismatic Kenyan James Shikwati is a staunch supporter of market liberalism and is convinced that Africa's development should rely on free trade. He explains his commitment to the Aid by Trade Foundation: "I support the Foundation and its initiative because it gives African smallholders access to the world market. I believe that those who want to help Africa should trade with the continent and see to it that goods are processed locally in order to increase the added value in the country of origin."
Shikwati was born in 1970 and grew up in Rift Valley province in western Kenya. He studied from 1990 to 1995 at the University of Nairobi and worked after graduating as a geography, sociology and ethics teacher at Kiptewit High School in Kenya. In 2001 he turned his back on teaching to devote his energies to economics. At the age of just thirty years he founded the first liberal market research institute in Africa, the Inter-Region Economic Network (IREN), in Nairobi. Since then, the self-taught economist Shikwati has been a dedicated supporter of the development of Africa and of market liberalism. He has written numerous articles and commentaries on economic themes and has worked as a consultant for organisations such as the Africa Resource Bank and Newcastle University. In 2008 the World Economic Forum named him one of the 250 Young Global Leaders.
He is now a member of the Board of Trustees of the Aid by Trade Foundation and is supporting the Foundation in achieving its objectives in Africa. He took part last week in his first Board meeting and is already fully involved in the Foundation's work, where his experience and network of contacts will be an enormous bonus.
Members of the Board of Trustees of the Aid by Trade Foundation include leading international personalities from environmental associations, research institutions and the business world such as Nicholas Earlam, CEO of Plexus Cotton in Liverpool, and Ibrahim Malloum, representative of the government of Chad responsible for the development of local textile production. Chaired by Michael Otto, it ensures that the Foundation's core aims -- improving the social situation in Africa and promoting environmental protection -- are implemented in the long term.
Cotton plants are quite unprepossessing and the fluffy white balls provide little indication of the economic importance of the raw material. Every year over 21 million tons of cotton are cultivated and processed throughout the world -- hence the nickname "white gold", as it is sometimes referred to. It is cultivated in huge quantities above all in China, India and the USA. Cotton growers in the United States of America receive considerable support through state subsidies.
In global terms, cotton production on the African continent is relatively small, but its huge economic significance for the individual countries can be seen in Benin, one of the poorest countries in the world, where it is the major crop in a farming industry that accounts for one third of the gross domestic product. In the 2009--10 season there were some 337,500 cotton growers in the small West African country. If their families are included, this means that around 2,362,500 people were dependent on this raw material -- over a quarter of the population. Most African growers are smallholder famers working not on plantations but on their own fields alone with the aid of their families and without hired help or large machines. In this country, in which around one third of the population live in extreme poverty, a guaranteed income through the sale of raw cotton provides a basic livelihood.
Worldwide cotton production has dwindled in the last few years above all because of rising costs, shortage of labour, additional government subsidies for cereal growers in China, and export restrictions in India. According to Michael Otto, chairman of the board of the Aid by Trade Foundation, the cotton market is likely to experience an international shortage in the next few years. The US Department of Agriculture reckons that the global demand this season will be around 120.87 million bales while the harvest is expected to produce only 116.85 million. The result is rising raw material prices: between the beginning and end of October last year cotton prices rose by 22 per cent to reach a new record level. For African cotton growers this presents an opportunity but also a risk. The demand for cotton on the world market is greater than the supply, which means that the price and hence the earnings will be higher. At the same time, there is a danger that the major textile companies will look elsewhere and turn more to polyester than before.
Whereas polyester used to be condemned as harmful to the environment, the development of recycled polyester has considerably improved its image. It is made from plastic waste and can be processed with less water and washed at lower temperatures than cotton. The production and processing of polyester has increased more in the last decades than cotton: while the production figures for cotton have doubled since the 1970s, polyester production has risen fivefold to 42 million tons in 2008 compared to 25 million tons of cotton.
Fritz Grobien from the Plexus cotton company in Malawi even goes as far as to pronounce that "polyester is the true enemy of cotton". The aim must be to revive cotton growing in Africa, on which so many people depend, by increasing productivity. It is with this in mind that he encourages growers and cotton businesses to join Cotton made in Africa, where they will learn how to increase their yield in the long term through sustainable cultivation. This initiative will help growers to consolidate their future through the cultivation of cotton. At the same time Cotton made in Africa will counteract the global decline in cultivation and will assist cotton in continuing to prevail on the world market against chemical fibres such as polyester.