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Cotton made in Africa celebrates tenth anniversary

By Simone Preuss


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In 2005, businessman Michael Otto of the German Otto Group launched the Cotton made in Africa initiative as well as the supporting organisation Aid by Trade Foundation (then called Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, which was renamed in 2007). Together with state sector partners like DEG and GIZ, NGOs like the WWF and Welthungerhilfe and two textile companies, the initiative started in three African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso and Zambia) with 150,000 smallholder farmers.

Ten years later, the Cotton made in Africa initiative has grown considerably; twelve African countries are now part of it: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, involving more than 752,000 verified smallholders in 2015, 17 percent of them women. Together, they cultivated an area of more than 1,1 million hectares and produced more than 956,000 tonnes of raw cotton, which were used in around 30.5 million textiles with CmiA seal that were placed on the market in 2015.

Since the initiative's inception, 700,000 tonnes of ginned CmiA cotton have been processed into textiles worldwide and approximately 140 million textiles with the CmiA quality seal have been put on sale by textile companies.

To convince more women to join the initiative and to empower those who have already joined, the "Gender Picture Block" was developed, training materials that dispel the classic, traditional understanding of gender roles and address everyday concerns of farmers. Popular topics revolve around farm and household matters, gender roles and division of labour as well as health and family. All materials were designed in such a way that they are also suitable for those who are illiterate, thus functioning on a visual level and addressing everyday scenarios from the farmers’ lives.

In addition, the CmiA Community Cooperation Program (CCCP) was initiated on the initiative’s anniversary to further its commitment to improving the living conditions of smallholders in many areas in the future. Thus, the new program will fund social and environmental projects in the CmiA cotton cultivation regions. While founder Michael Otto provided the program with a starting capital of one million euros, corporate partners will also participate.

CmiA 10 year anniversary celebrates increased awareness, output and farmer participation

The annual CmiA stakeholder conference, held together with COMPACI, took place from 19th to 21st October 2015 and saw over 120 representatives of cotton companies and traders, textile producers, retailers, development organisations and environmental associations come together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They focused on the exchange of know-how and information, agricultural and marketing topics, networking between new and existing partners and discussed experiences in sustainable cotton cultivation, smallholder qualification measures and impact-measurement measures.

To find new Cotton made in Africa partners, the initiative was represented at numerous trade fairs throughout the year such as Heimtextil in Frankfurt in January of 2015; TexWorld in New York in January and July, Munich Fabric Start in Munich in February and MAGIC in Las Vegas in February and August, as well as Origin Africa in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa in October.

Thirty companies currently work with the Cotton made in Africa initiative (see image), among them Asos, Jack & Jones, Otto Group, s.Oliver, Tchibo, Tom Tailor, Tchibo and Vlisco. Says Sabrina Müller, manager for sustainable assortments & products non food, of German coffee chain and retailer Tchibo about the cooperation: "The partnership with CmiA is very important to us as we start with exactly these points [sustainability, environmental protection] and support African cotton farmers and their families in their attempts to improve their living conditions for the long term."

Stefanie Sumfleth, head of CR and quality services at German fashion retailer Bonprix, would agree: "With CmiA’s help, we are significantly reducing our harmful ecological impact, in particular with regard to emissions and water consumption in cotton cultivation," she says, adding: "We also play a part in improving the social conditions of African smallholders. Using CmiA is an important part of our CR activities for these reasons. In future, we would like to communicate these positive aspects to our customers even more actively, therefore increasing the value of the product for Bonprix buyers."

For the future, the initiative wants to ensure that brand recognition for Cotton made in Africa continues to grow regardless of its partners’ individual marketing activities. To this effect, a group of experts began with the launch of a movement for CmiA in 2015, which will be activated by several partners, friends and associates and will begin in 2016.

The full annual report can be downloaded from the CmiA website, cottonmadeinafrica.org.

Images: CmiA Annual Report 2015