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.

Cotton is a very important crop in Benin. It is the fourth biggest cotton producer in Africa providing around 80% of its export income and supporting at least 50% of Benin’s population. Unfortunately, most farmers depend on hazardous pesticides and fertilisers to grow cotton with many serious negative health and environmental impacts.

The use of these agrochemical inputs is also rising as farmers try to cope with more pests and declining soil fertility. As a result, these farmers have extremely low incomes due to their dependency on seeds, fertilisers and pesticides loaned against harvest income by middlemen.

TRAID has funded PAN UK, and our Beninese partner OBEPAB, since 2009 to help farmers grow cotton and other crops organically by improving farming methods. Today, OBEPAB supports 3,700 farmers, most of whom have been certified organic. These organic cotton farmers have experienced 65% higher net income per hectare of cotton due to lower input costs and a 20% premium for their cotton.

Over the next two-years, the project aims for the remaining farmers to become certified – the organic certification process takes three-years – while also adding another 500 farmers to the programme.

Farmers growing shea, soya and cashew rotation and companion crops alongside their cotton will also receive business support. They are already getting higher yields than neighbouring farmers growing conventionally (using pesticides) but will still need support to ensure their produce is as high quality as possible, and to access the most profitable markets.

This work is building on the success of the three phases of funding since 2009 which resulted in 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.

Additional funding in 2012 and 2014 built on the successes of the original 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. New farmers were provided with training and support to use innovative proven organic techniques to improve yields and incomes. In addition, the Benin government committed to buying their whole organic harvest as a result of a lobbying by the project, a major success.

Support has been given to farmers, with a focus on female farmers in particular, to add value to companion crops such as shea and cashew, which are rotated with cotton as part of the farmers’ organic practice. Unusually, this project has a high participation of women farmers who make up nearly 40% of the farmers compared to around 10% in African cotton farming in general.

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.