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


March 8th, 2012

Preventing the Contamination of AFRICAN ORGANIC COTTON: Organic practices hold the key

We want to keep you posted on all aspects of the African Cotton industry. You may ask why is it important, what issues arise i n farming African cotton and also how does the processing of cotton actually work. We will continue to fill you in on all these points through our Africa Fashion Guide African Cotton Campaign. We are happy to feature an article by Silvere Tovignan a specialist in Cotton in Africa and a Regional Director for Textile Exchange (TE). TE is a non-profit, membership based organization incorporated in 2003 committed to the responsible expansion of textile sustainability across the global textile value chain, with a special focus on organic cotton.

Enjoy the read and do share your thoughts.

Jacqueline Shaw


Cotton plays an important role in the economy of African countries that have adopted it as an export crop.  From West to East and South Africa, the cotton production system is dominated by thousands of small scale farmers using mostly family labor. Most countries producing cotton export it as a commodity with very little added-value. Apart from Egypt, most cotton varieties produced in Africa are medium staple which makes it suitable for a large range of textile products.  The reputation of African cotton is built on the fact that it is handpicked which is a presumption of cleanness as opposed to machine harvesting that mixes cotton with trash from leaves and stems. This presumption can sometimes be wrong. Spinners and some cotton merchants complain about the contamination of African cotton with non cotton materials such as: polypropylene fiber (PP), stones, plastic bags, etc.

Sometimes complaints about cleanliness are used as a way to bargain for a lower price. However, sometimes they are true.

So where does this contaminations come from?

One important comment to make is that if there is contamination in the cotton it may not be the fault of the farmers alone. The responsibility for avoiding contamination is shared among farmers, transporters and ginners.

Havesting organic cotton Mali – Image courtesy Textile Exchange

Contamination can occur during a number of phases:

  • during harvesting when the farmers use polypropylene bags (like empty fertile bags) to keep the cotton
  • during storing, the wind can bring plastic bags on the heap of cotton
  • during transportation to the market place, if polypropylene bags are used
  • during transportation to the ginnery, if the truck is not cleaned
  • during ginning, if the dust suppression and trash separation system at the gin is defect
  • after ginning, if the cotton fiber is baled with polypropylene material

In order to preserve the reputation of African cotton and to improve its competitiveness, the ACA (Association of African cotton ginners) and AProCA (Association of African cotton growers) have put in place a chart for the prevention of contamination. This chart is supported by a procedures manual that describes what should be done at each single stage with the recommendation to keep the documentation of the entire process.

Cotton and trash seperation Burkina Faso – Image courtesy Textile Exchange

The Organic Advantage

Most organic cotton producer groups are aware of the contamination issue and have a control system set up for prevention. For example, during harvesting farmers have to use specific bags made of cotton, each farm has their inspectors who make sure the cotton is cleaned and separated from any trash after picking, and again before weighing the production from each farmer.  During transportation to the ginnery, farm inspectors make sure that the truck is cleaned and accompany the truck till delivery at the ginnery. The ginnery in turn has to make sure the cotton cleaning system is operational. After ginning, the cotton fiber has to be baled with woven cotton.

Cotton at Marketplace Burkina Faso – Image courtesy Textile Exchange

Textile Exchange will be encouraging best practice

One important priority for Textile Exchange is to review and reinforce the farm control systems of the organic farm groups. We recognize that the contamination prevention system of some groups is better and more systematic than others. This year, TE will be working with the organic cotton farm groups that have best practice in prevention systems in place, and are performing well. We will develop a fact sheet that will be shared with all organic cotton farmer groups in Africa.

Organic Cotton baled – Image courtesy Textile Exchange

The quality and just as importantly the reputation of African cotton need to be maintained and improved. Organic cotton fiber from Africa is produced under strict production procedures to eliminate contamination, which enables it to hold the highest quality attributes.

Author: Silvere Tovignan – Regional Director for Africa, Textile Exchange  

Source: Textile Exchange

Published with permission



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  1. Jennifer walker

    Why aren’t things put in place, so that workers know what is expected from them. Then someone is put in charged to over see what is happening with the product before they are shipped abroad. This will avoid reducing the prices of their goods. These people need to receive fair trade for their goods. This will make them able to survive so that they can feed themselves and their families and send their children to school, the basic things of life. They are not as fortunate as rich western world. These people do not have anything; they live a very meagre live. Only the fat cats in those parts of the world live well, the rest of them live very poor life. Allow them to make a living.

    • thanks Jennifer for your comment

      We interview someone from Mali a feature piece coming out this weekend do keep an eye out for it to hear from the farmers voice the situation of African cotton farming

      Team AFG

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