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March 9th, 2012

FAIRTRADE Cotton Farming in AFRICA – Interview with Malian Cotton Organisation

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Written by: Jacqueline Shaw

A few weeks ago I brought my French speaking friend along with me to the Fairtrade Foundation offices in Minories, London. I had received an email to interview a cotton farm representative from a Fairtrade Cotton organisation in Mali. With it being Fairtrade Fortnight it proved great timing for us to talk about this event on the site and to talk to him for a featured interview too. He was over in London for a short period brought over by the Fairtrade Foundation and I would be speaking with him to find out more about his work in Mali and the challenges and strengths he found doing what he did there.

As we had only shortly just launched our Africa Fashion Guide African Cotton Campaign this was a prize opportunity to speak with someone directly from the industry of cotton in Africa.

The Fairtrade Foundation is the independent non-profit organisation that licenses use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products in the UK in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade standards.  The Foundation was established in 1992 and is the UK member of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO), which unites 21 labelling initiatives across Europe, Japan, North America, Mexico and Australia/New Zealand as well as networks of producer organisations from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Their vision is of a world in which justice and sustainable development are at the heart of trade structures and practices so that everyone, through their work, can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood and develop their full potential.

To achieve this vision, Fairtrade seeks to transform trading structures and practices in favour of the poor and disadvantaged. By facilitating trading partnerships based on equity and transparency, Fairtrade contributes to sustainable development for marginalised producers, workers and their communities. Through demonstration of alternatives to conventional trade and other forms of advocacy, the Fairtrade movement empowers citizens to campaign for an international trade system based on justice and fairness.

Massatoma Mounkoro is an Agricultural Engineer born and based in Mali. He works for the cotton organisation MOBIOM – the Malian Organic Movement. It was created in 2002 with headquarters in Bougouni and is an umbrella organization of 76 producers and producer cooperatives, with over 8,000 members. Mobiom’s vision is the appropriation of streams by producers and producers for the empowerment Mobiom. Its mission is to help improve the incomes of producers’ cooperatives in an economic environment. Massatoma’s role at Mobiom is to train and develop farmers to be certified according to fair trade and EUROPA.

african-cotton-fairtrade foundation

With this in mind we went to a local cafe. I spoke the very little French I knew and realised with dismay that I have lost even the little I have as I couldn’t remember the simplest words when he asked how I am, so was even more happy that fellow business woman and good friend Mathy stepped in to help, translate and conduct the interview on my behalf. Once we ordered our food at the cafe and had a bit of gentle banter with the waiter we sat down in a quiet spot in the cafe ready to talk.

Massetoma Mounkoro is a tall man, with a sense of gentleness and peace. He informed us that he was experiencing  his first 24 hours in London with great pleasure. When asked  what he thinks of London he replied “It’s nice nothing negative so far”.  With the help of Fairtrade Foundation he was able to come to London for the first time and he was eagerly awaiting his sightseeing of the city.

AFG: We first wished to know actually what is the the work of MOBIOM. How does it add growth to African cotton?

Massetoma: Mobium (Movement Biologic Malien) Malian organic movement. . It’s also been referenced as Biological fashion from Mali in other media press. They have been champion of Biological agriculture since 2002. The Cooperative began in the early 1998 when Helvetas noticed the declining price of cotton. The increasing inflation was increasing the number of farmers rapidly  loosing profit. In 2004 Helvetas started a pilot initiative which would introduce organic fare trade cotton and help farmers increase their revenues.  From here Farmers began creating small partnership which evolved in what you see today an organic cotton co operative and umbrella body.

AFG: What is the importance of African cotton to the farmers?

Massetoma: Cotton is the main product which brings most of the revenue in Africa in first and second place. It is also the main crop in West Africa countries and Central Africa equally in the east.  Mali is the second largest producer in the world after Egypt. The trade of cotton is the main revenue for farmers. It allows us to build schools, improve education, build hospitals, produce filtered water.

AFG: How does the USA  subsidies issue affect your farmers?

Massetoma: These subsidies creates great division and inequality between African and US farmers. American farmers can easily produce in large quantity because of use of machinery this influences the global market trend greatly. Whereas African farmers are dependant on factors such as; weather conditions and manual production as everything is handpicked. To this hindrance African farmers have a large disadvantage and cannot dictate cotton prices contrary to their American counterpart.

AFG: We just launched our Africa Fashion Guide African Cotton Campaign to create awareness of the situation of African cotton farmers and to encourage more trade business for designers and retailers to source African cotton. So we wish to fully understand the processing that the farmers use to farm cotton in Africa – in particular in Mali. Is farming picked by hand or machine and are farmers both men and women? And what is the average number of acres per farmer?

Massetoma: Yes farming is very much hand picked by both mane and women. The women make 27% of framers and the acres are 0.60 per farmer’s.

Fairtrade Producer – Source: Fairtrade Report

AFG: What is the average tonnage produced per season is it going up or staying the same or going down

Massetoma: On average 1800 ton last year. This year we may beat the 1800 tonnage.  It was steadily increasing but in 2009 when the global economy was hit, it declined severely. This drop was affected by th CMDT (Compagnie Malienne du Développement des Textiles) a Malian company for textile development.  Now it is gradually increasing and picking up once more.

AFG: What links African cotton farmers and African cotton to designers? Do farmers sell directly to ginneries and mills or are there any direct links to retailers and designers through MOBIOM?

Massetoma: Yes they are links but not direct ones. Everything has to go through CMDT who sell it off. And the MOBIOM needs a variety of retailers to increase long lasting, retail relations or the future of farmers is threatened by this. Farmers depend on retail relationships.

AFG: Is the cotton ginned in Mali or is it exported directly as cotton bolls in it’s raw form?

Massetoma: CMDT buys all the cotton in Mali and partners-up with other groups or usually sells to foreign countries directly. The cotton is mainly exported has cotton balls.

AFG: So therefore, how important is it for cotton to be produced organically?

Massetoma: Organic production has it’s rules, to protect it’s environment. It is often more healthy than the conventional methods. It protects farmers and their families and increases long-lasting development.  The price is also well planned for remuneration of farmers.

Fairtrade acts the same, it allows men and women to produce in similar conditions and receive the fruit of their labour. It also allows better partner relations. Allows farmers to receive a fair price at the minimum cost and equally allows long lasting development and investements

AFG: What are your challenges of farming in Africa and what are the pros of working in this industry in Africa?

Massetoma: These are the challenges  we face:

  • Market / trading
  • Price
  • Transformiation of product
  • Introduction of NGOs which threatens farmers production

These are my positive for small farmers in Africa :

  • They are small farmers
  • They play an important role in Africa which needs to be preserved and develop
  • We  have natural organic production
  • More positive on the environment
  • Producing quality product
  • if taken at it’s right value it could strongly contribute  to the development and stability of Africa.

AFG: And lastly are their any final words you would like to say to those reading this interview?

Massetoma: I feel that for the future of  a positive Africa  the global market needs to becomes more regulated.

We had many more questions but had to leave early so Massetoma could continue his sightseeing, that afternoon, of London. As we left the cafe and took Massetoma back to the Fairtrade Foundation office he thanked us for the interview as he said he was thanking us for helping to bring his and the farmers stories to people in the developed world and this was encouraging. I actually found him very inspiring and very encouraging. The main aim was to let our readers know another side of the industry and by speaking with those who work on the ground in Africa is initially the way to get stories out, the next step is to implement change. We hope by telling this story and by starting our campaign for African cotton through the use of impactful slogan tees will highlight the situation the need and encourage others to buy more organic cotton from Africa.

Author: Mathy Lisika-Minsende and Jacqueline Shaw

Mathy is a Blogger, Speaker and Employment specialist who loves fashion. She is also an enterpreneur and the visionary and founder of new enterprise  Whathejobisthis.com. See her facebook page here: www.facebook.com/whathejobisthis

Keep connected with her through her site and look out for further contributions in relation to Francophone Africa articles we bring to you.







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One Comment


  1. great piece guys enjoyed reading this one
    got some really good facts about the cotton very interesting facts
    #AFRICA EXPOSED



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