Project location: Gamo Gofa and Wolaita Zones
Funding: £252,188
Year / duration: 2018 / 3 years
Partner: PAN UK and PAN Ethiopia

In recent years Ethiopia has attracted much attention from retailers as another potential textile hub to make clothes. However, while many factories have orders for clothes made with sustainable cotton, as yet, Ethiopian farmers are unable to meet this demand.

TRAID has been supporting cotton farmers in Ethiopia since 2012 to stop using hazardous pesticides and fertilisers. Today, the project is flourishing with 2,800 farmers growing cotton without any chemical inputs. 200 of these farmers are now certified organic, the first ever in Ethiopia to gain organic certification for cotton. The other 2,600 are also well on their way to becoming officially organic.

Lead farmer Wudinesh hand spinning cotton, an important tradition and craft in Ethiopia. The project supports farmers to establish small enterprises.

The next phase of the project is training a further 2,400 farmers to practice safe farming methods with the ultimate aim of becoming certified organic too. Increasing numbers of retailers and brands are pledging to use more sustainable cotton to make clothes and textiles. We hope that 5,200 trained farmers will go some way to producing enough organic cotton to meet what we hope will be increased demand for cotton.

Farmers field school training

During the next three years the project will also experiment with supporting groups to set up cotton related businesses alongside growing cotton. This will help to reduce the risks small-scale cotton producers face by supporting improved productivity and diversifying income sources. For example, women farmers in particular will be trained to produce ready-made organic pesticides to sell to other farmers.

In the four years since TRAID funded this project, the average net income of these farmers has been a whopping 40% higher than that of neighbouring farmers producing conventional cotton and that has been consistent over the whole project. They have also seen increases of 72% in the price per KG of cotton since the start of the project. without drenching their crops with pesticides.

As well as supporting small-scale farmers to grow organic, the project has worked with a plantation farm called ‘Lucy’ to grow and manage 244 hectares of cotton, without using any pesticides. They will be eligible to apply for certification at the end of 2020 and it will prove that organic cotton can also be done at scale. Watch this space!

Some of the team at the Lucy Farm, Arba Minch, Ethiopia ©Leigh McAlea

PAN UK’s partner staff have worked closely with the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture to integrate the project’s research and learning at government level to ensure that organic agriculture is included in future agriculture policies, and to fan out the project to areas that PAN UK’s partner cannot reach with its current capacity.

Reduced use of pesticides will also bring massive health and environmental benefits for the wider community of approximately 360,000 people, especially women and children who are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of pesticides. We’re confident that the benefits of a badly needed larger income and an end to pesticide-related environmental damage and ill-health will be enjoyed by the next 2700 farmers.

Read our blog after visiting the project in 2018 here

Watch the interview with Wudinesh, a cotton farmer in Shelle Mella, Ethiopia who has taken part in PAN Ethiopia’s training programme for more than 5 seasons. She is now a certified organic cotton farmer and one of the very first certified organic cotton farmers in Ethiopia.