Cotton made in Africa Organic is a cotton standard that expands on existing certifications in two respects. Firstly, it takes elements from an organic standard within the internationally recognised IFOAM family of standards and blends them with Cotton made in Africa’s own established standards for improving the living and working conditions of small-scale cotton farmers. Secondly, it takes the criteria for organic certification and supplements them with social criteria and indicators found in Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) standards.
CmiA standards already set strict rules in order to promote socially and environmentally sustainable cotton production. For instance, CmiA prohibits the use of genetically modified seeds. It also disallows potentially dangerous pesticides (those containing substances that fall under the following categories: Stockholm Convention Annexes A and B, Rotterdam Convention Annex III, Montreal Protocol, and WHO Classes Ia and Ib). Furthermore, CmiA is rigorous in ensuring that permitted pesticides are used only when necessary and with appropriate safety precautions in place for their storage, handling, application, and disposal. In addition, only rainwater can be used for irrigation.
The CmiA Organic standard is a double certification: It requires certified cotton both to fulfil CmiA criteria and to be certified by one of the organic standards within the internationally recognised IFOAM family of standards, such as the European Union’s Organic Regulation (2018/848). Organic cultivation precludes the use of agricultural chemicals like synthetic chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers, thereby significantly reducing energy expenditure during production while also protecting biodiversity, groundwater, surface water, and people’s health in cotton-growing regions.
CmiA Organic was developed specifically for small-scale farmers in African countries south of the Sahara. It covers not only general and cotton-specific ecological criteria but also the social conditions under which cotton is cultivated and processed. There are separate field-level criteria and indicators for cultivation in the fields and ginnery-level criteria and indicators for how fibres are separated in ginneries. As CmiA partners, the cotton companies that operate these ginneries are required to observe criteria that address various issues, such as
Further improvements in the living conditions of people in cotton-growing regions are achieved through community projects supported by CmiA and its commercial partners. Activities include equipping buildings with solar panels as well as constructing schools, wells, or healthcare facilities.
These kinds of concerns regarding social welfare and labour rights issues are not included in “pure” organic certifications, which would have to be combined with some kind of “fair trade” certification to achieve the same effect.
In most cases, transitions are initiated at the behest of regional cotton associations (“Managing Entities”). Having decided that they want to start working with organic cotton, they contact farmers who are interested in shifting to organic agriculture. There is then a transition phase, during which organic agriculture has been put into practice but the cotton cannot yet be sold as organically produced, to give time for the soil and ecosystem to adapt to changing conditions and for any traces of chemicals in the soil to break down. This phase generally lasts for two to three years. However, since many CmiA farmers already use very little, if any, synthetic fertiliser, this phase can be cut short at the certifier’s discretion.
It is not only the soil that has to adapt; people also have to modify the way they do things. Cotton farmers are therefore provided with specialised training. Neighbouring farmers usually transition together as a group, with support from agricultural extension service workers, who are consultants employed by Managing Entities. CmiA offers training for these consultants as well.
During this time, CmiA supports farmers wishing to make this transition by offering training in issues like soil health or composting methods.
Compliance is ensured through two levels of verification. First of all, the Managing Entities apply for certification to one or more of the organic standards listed in the IFOAM family of standards. Then, once they have gained certification, the verification process for CmiA and CmiA Organic begins; this step includes a field audit and an audit of the ginnery. More details are available here.
The farmers receive additional income from the CmiA Organic cotton they sell in the form of a bonus from the company that purchases their cotton. The bonus is calculated based on market prices, usually amounting to between ten and 15 percent of the price for conventional cotton. This premium can represent a significant boost to the financial position of small-scale farmers, as cotton is often their only cash crop and their harvests are often lower due to their transition to organic cultivation practices. Another financial benefit to growing CmiA Organic cotton is that they have fewer expenses since they no longer have to purchase synthetic pesticides or fertilisers.
Over the years, Cotton made in Africa has been able to gain extensive experience with tracking systems through its operations. To guarantee that CmiA Organic cotton is actually processed into yarns and textiles, CmiA uses its SCOT/HIP tracking system. This system provides transparency into how organic CmiA cotton is used throughout the supply chain, on the basis of documentation and photos. The process starts with the spinning mill, which must prove that only CmiA-verified cotton has been used for yarn production, and ends with the retailer who places an order for the production of textiles using CmiA cotton. The evidence collected is not limited to documents alone. By requiring every transaction to be confirmed by both parties, the system creates an additional layer of assurance.
A total of approximately 10,000 tonnes of CmiA Organic cotton is currently being produced, comprising around 1,000 tonnes in Benin and 9,000 tonnes in Tanzania.
Textiles made from CmiA Organic cotton may bear the following label: