Project location: Gamo Gofa & Welaita Zones,Southern Ethiopia
Funding: £96,500
Year / duration: 2021 / 1 Year
Partner: PAN Ethiopia and PAN UK

TRAID has supported PAN Ethiopia and PAN UK since 2012 to reduce and end Ethiopian cotton farmer’s dependency on hazardous pesticides. To date we have committed £586,921 – over half a million pounds – to empower Ethiopian cotton farming communities formerly using expensive dangerous chemicals, to manage crops naturally. Today, over 2,000 farmers have significantly improved their yields, health, wealth and environment by farming sustainably, bringing additional benefits to their families and the wider community.

The project has made huge strides. In practice, the majority of participating farmers now grow completely organically, and the rest have massively reduced pesticide use with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and are well on their way to converting to organic.  Significantly, in 2018, the project saw 200 farmers who had formed the Shelle Mella cooperative secure the first organic certifications for cotton ever in Ethiopia.  We are now well on our way to certifying more!

Much has been achieved, from flourishing Farmer Field Schools where farmers learn practical agro-ecological pest management techniques to working with national government demonstrating the benefits of natural crop management to ultimately secure an organic future for Ethiopia. Here, PAN Ethiopia’s Director Tadessa Amera, and farmer Menza Maile explain more.

In 2021/22, a TRAID grant of £96,500 will help Ethiopian farmers to further benefit from growing global and national interest in sourcing sustainable cotton. This phase of the project will continue to expand its highly successful Farmer Field School model and will support more farmers to secure organic certification through three new cooperatives. It will also improve access to high quality cotton seed – an issue raised by farmers – by supporting lead farmers to grow quality crops for the purposes of seed provision.

Farmer training on managing cotton and food crops without using chemical pesticides

Another exciting part of the project is using natural crop management techniques like food spray which have worked so successfully on cotton, to vegetable crops. 60 vegetable farmers, plus four Development Agents (the crucial link between the state and farmers) will gain skills in managing vegetable crops without using hazardous pesticides and fertilisers.

In comparison to growing cotton drenched in toxic chemicals, the paperwork and data collection required for organic cotton certification is complex and demanding. This phase of the project will also focus on strengthening management systems to help those farmers who are growing organically, but are uncertified, through the rigours of the certification process.

Organic cotton accounted for almost one percent of global cotton production in 2019/20, up from 0.5 percent in 2016/17 – according to the 2020/21 report from Textile Exchange. It’s a tiny percentage, but demand is rocketing with an expected 48% growth for organic cotton production forecast in 2021/21. This is an extremely exciting time for the organic cotton farmers we support, and our partners. The possibility of fewer toxic chemicals, and more sustainably grown cotton has never felt more possible. TRAID is proud to support this groundbreaking work that is reaping so many rewards, and building so much knowledge, for the farmers involved.

Demand does not come without risks to long-standing, carefully calibrated projects.  It is fantastic more brands want to include more sustainable cotton in their supply chains, especially the gold standard of organic. However, brands typically demand too much, too soon, and are unwilling to provide the long-term support organic cotton farmers – and those in conversion – require.  Both PAN Ethiopia and PAN UK aim to balance risk by addressing the knowledge gap around the time frames of certification – a reality check – and always putting the security of farmer livelihoods first.

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Organic Pest Management Controls

The core aim of this project is empowering farmers to grow cotton – and other crops – organically without using toxic chemicals. An important tool is food spray, a natural cheap organic crop management technique designed to attract beneficial insects which eat harmful pests – rather than blitzing crops pesticides which kills everything – including the beneficial insects and pollinators. Atalo Belay, PAN Ethiopia’s Programme Coordinator and Entomologist explains more: –