Africa Fashion Guide
A social enterprise promoting sustainability within Africa's fashion and textile industry.


October 11th, 2013

CmiA & COMPACI and The Advancement of Women through Cotton Women Clubs – TEXTILES

The Aid by Trade Foundation follows an innovative approach in development cooperation. Rather than sending money to Africa, the Cotton made in Africa Initiative follows the principles of “social business” – as the name of the Foundation says, this is aid by trade, helping people to help themselves by means of commercial activities. The African smallholder farmers who have joined this initiative are partners on an equal footing.

Cotton made in Africa works on the principles of a social business. That means the initiative operates in accordance with sound business methods, except that it does not aim to maximise the profits of individuals, but rather to improve the conditions of life of a large number of African cotton farmers. In order to do that, it is building an alliance of international retail companies, which have targeted demand in the global market for sustainably produced cotton, and use this material in their products. Cotton made in Africa acts in accordance with the rules of the market, avoiding subsidies or interventions in the system of world market prices, which are dependent on supply and demand as are the prices of practically all raw materials.

There are other initiatives that focus on the cultivation and sale of organic cotton. But as it is still quite expensive to grow this cotton, in many cases it is not yet able to meet the requirements of the mass market, and remains a niche product for the time being. Big retail companies want to buy the cotton raw material at the lowest possible price, because consumers are normally not willing to pay more for it. Cotton made in Africa wants to sell as much African cotton as possible in the market, to improve the conditions of life of as many smallholder farmers as possible. So CmiA cotton has to hold its own in the mass market.

Cotton made in Africa is not organic cotton. But sustainable growing of the raw material is ensured – together with its partners, the initiative gives the farmers training in modern, efficient growing methods, with awareness of pesticide use, i.e. use of the minimum amount of pesticides. Rain fed cultivation and crop rotation is used. But the initiative works in close cooperation with the organic cotton organisations, for joint work to increase the sales of sustainably grown cotton.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, improving the living conditions of small farmers is directly associated with the advancement of women. Female cotton farmers do most of the work in the field and in the home and look after the entire family’s welfare. CmiA and COMPACI have joined forces with the local cotton companies to strengthen the rights and position of women in the program. In this respect, the Cargill Zambia cotton company works to adapt training in sustainable cotton production to the needs of the female participants. Cargill Zambia also supports women with establishing “Cotton Women Clubs”. Since 2011, more than 500 of these clubs, each with 25–50 members, have come into existence. The clubs have an elected governing body and plant cotton and other crops together. They receive advice from Cargill and support through loans to pre-finance special production sites. The women reinvest the income they generate together, for example in the construction of a warehouse or in education for their children. Many women become independent partners of Cargill and can now earn their own income thanks to the Women Clubs.

Rosemary Nyau Sakala from Mabeni Village (eastern Zambia) is an independent contract partner of the Cargill cotton company. She used the loan to buy seeds and harvested cotton to provide for her family. She says:

My husband took all the income from the joint cotton crop, stayed away for 2 weeks and then came back without money. That left me with no money to buy clothing for myself and my children. In the Women Club, I learned that I could get my own financing through Cargill, and then manage my own lot with this money. When my husband saw how successful I was with it he wanted to work with me in a large field. But I refused and now we work together on our own separate fields.

The best thing about the Women Clubs is that we learn from each other and share the best cultivation methods as well as the most delicious recipes. We have also learned that men cannot demand everything from us because we can provide for our family without husbands if we work hard enough.

African cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, using sustainable growing methods with harmony between agriculture, the natural environment and human beings. About 8% of the cotton traded in the world market is harvested in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Africa cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, and there are only very few large plantations.

The cotton plant loves warmth – it needs about 200 days of sunshine in the season to flourish and bear fruit. For that reason alone, it does well in the dry or humid savannas of Africa. The climate, with its high average temperatures and alternation between dry and wet seasons favours the growing of this natural fibre crop.

It takes about six months from planting to harvesting of cotton. After the harvest, seed and fibre are separated from each other in the gins, and the thin coating of wax that surrounds the fibres and protects them from wetness is removed. At the end, the raw cotton is pressed into large bales, and sold onward to the spinning mills for yarn manufacture. Thus it starts its trip along the textile chain – from the spinning mill to the finished garment.



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