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Ethiopia Creates First Certified Organic Cotton Program

Ethiopia has granted 200 cotton farmers organic certification for the first time.

The farmers are part of a project training small-scale cotton growers to reduce and stop using dangerous pesticides. The project began in 2013 with 90 farmers, and today is flourishing with over 2,000 farmers taking part.

The project is funded by TRAID, supported by the Pesticide Action Network UK, and delivered in-country by PAN Ethiopia.

Maria Chenoweth, chief executive officer of TRAID, a U.K.-based charity working to stop clothes from being thrown away, said, “Since 2009, TRAID has committed nearly 1 million pounds to support cotton farmers to stop using hazardous pesticides and use safer more sustainable alternatives. In Ethiopia, the farmers involved in this project will now get the organic premium for their cotton, and are the first in the country to do so. It’s a hugely significant moment and the project is well on its way to more farmers becoming accredited.”

Tadesse Amera, Director of PAN Ethiopia said, “The project has helped farmers to achieve yields higher than those in conventional farming and has reduced agro-chemical dependency and its related negative human health and environmental impacts.”

[Read more abour organic cotton: Organic Cotton Guides From Kering and TE Meant to Make Sourcing Easier]

Farmers have been trained on Integrated Pest Management techniques in Farmer Field Schools and are now achieving cotton yields over 100 percent higher than untrained farmers in the same area. They have also seen increases of 77 percent in the price per kilogram of cotton since the start of the project, without drenching their crops with harmful pesticides.

Farmers are trained in soil and water health, ecological pest management principles and learning to grow other crops alongside cotton. Typically, this knowledge has disappeared as reliance on pesticides has taken hold.

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Farmers in the project also use natural pesticides–a homemade food spray–that is made from local ingredients like ground neem seeds. It is used to attract “good” insects to their fields, which then eat the pests that threaten their crops.

A version of this spray has already been used successfully in Benin, West Africa in another TRAID funded project supporting organic farmers, and some of these Beninese farmers went to Ethiopia to share learning at the start of the project.

TRAID noted that nearly 1,000 people are estimated to die every day from acute pesticide poisoning. Many hundreds of thousands more suffer from chronic ill health, including cancers, neurological diseases and infertility.

According to the United Nations report “Global Chemicals Outlook,” pesticides are also poisoning Africa’s health services by $6.2 billion per year.

Farmers become trapped in a spiral of crop mismanagement and debt, spending up to 60 percent of their income on pesticides while they struggle to grow on poor soil depleted by pesticide overuse.

With farmers, their families and surrounding communities so negatively impacted by pesticide use, the continued development of organic cotton production is essential, and this work shows that an agro-ecological approach is working for farmers and helping to removing hazardous pesticides from the environment.