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.

Last year, 200 of the 2,800 farmers TRAID has supported over the past four years were certified organic, the first ever in Ethiopia. The other 2,600 are also well on their way to becoming officially organic.

Training cotton farmers to grow organic at Farmer Field School

This new project will scale up this successful programme to train a further 2,700 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 5,500 trained farmers will go some way to producing enough organic cotton to feed Ethiopia’s growing textiles industry.

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.

Supporting Ethiopian cotton farmers to establish small enterprises

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. 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.

By involving government staff in the project PAN Ethiopia is making sure that even if the project ceases to operate these agricultural advisers will be able to use their knowledge to support farmers to grow crops and increase their yields without using toxic pesticides and fertilisers.

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.

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.