Latest Update May 2016: 14 farmers from Benin visited other organic cotton farmers in Mali (another project TRAID funds with our partner Kew) to learn from each other and exchange ideas. The Beninese farmers returned to their farms full of inspiration and new techniques or coping with climate change and marketing their cotton and other crops like Shea and Cashew. They were also impressed by the Fairtrade system that the Malian farmers follow and are keen to invest some of their profits in schemes to develop and improve their own villages. Update August 2015: Long term funding has given this project the chance to develop strategically and vitally, allowed the national organic cotton farmers group to become well-established and now takes on the responsibility of talking to, and negotiating with the government, with amazing results. Last year the government announced that it would support all of Benin’s cotton farmers to go organic and has bought the project’s cotton from the last two harvests at a premium.

In Benin, West Africa, cotton farmers struggle to earn a living to support themselves and their families. Poor health compounds poverty among farmers due to the use of highly toxic pesticides, often with inadequate or no safety equipment.

In 2009, TRAID funded PAN UK and its partner in Benin over three years to build the capacity of cotton farmers to grow cotton without using dangerous pesticides. The results have been dramatic with over 2,100 farmers seeing cotton yields and incomes comparable to, or more than conventionally grown cotton. At the same time, farming without pesticides means lower costs as well as significant health and environmental benefits for themselves, their families and the wider community. TRAID then funded a second phase of the project in 2012 to extend the benefits and lessons learned to farmers in three regions in Benin focusing particularly on farmers affected by severe flooding in 2010. It built on the successes of the previous project and introduced new elements such as cotton seed collection including training farmers to collect and store cotton seeds to free farmers them from dependence on companies selling agrochemicals.

In 2014, TRAID funded PAN to reach new farmers providing training and support to use innovative but proven organic techniques to improve yields and incomes. The Benin government has already committed to buying their whole harvest as a result of a lobbying under the previous project, a major success. In addition, support will be given to farmers (particularly women) to add value (through techniques plus simple machinery) to companion crops such as shea and cashew, which are rotated with cotton as part of the farmers’ organic practice. All project results will be shared with other PAN projects as well as other TRAID partners working on organic cotton farming.

This project is anticipated to benefit 1,500 farmers including around 600 women, 6,750 family members who have an increased family income and are not exposed to pesticide health hazards, and 500 shea and cashew farmers who will see increased incomes.

2015 Project Funding: TRAID part funded an innovative collaboration between government, academics, a local NGO and local partner OBEPAB to tackle the problem of lack of supply of organic cotton seed. 99% of farmers were reporting problems finding organic seed with most cotton seed companies only stocking GM seeds. Where non-GMO seed is available, it often does not suit organic farming techniques. The team is setting up a mini project to develop organic cotton seed appropriate for the growing conditions of Benin by forming a ‘seed network’ aiming to train 100 cotton farmers.