|PAN UK Project: Benin Cotton Trade – building an environmentally friendly route to poverty reduction|
PAN UK has launched a one year project, funded by TRAID, to help small scale cotton farmers in the Djidja, Setto and Sinendé regions of Benin in West Africa to reap the economic, health and environmental benefits of sustainable organic cotton production. This project extends PAN UK's existing four year programme which has already transformed the livelihoods of 1700 smallholder cotton farmers in Benin.
The problem with pesticides
Small-scale cotton farmers in Benin West Africa suffer from ill-health, environmental damage and financial insecurity from engaging in intensive cotton production.
These problems are caused in large part by the uncontrolled use of highly hazardous pesticides. PAN has recorded a high incidence of pesticide poisoning, including large numbers of fatalities, in Benin. Despite the risks they are taking with their health, cotton farmers are not rewarded with high returns. In fact, they are in an increasingly precarious financial position as the cost of agrochemical inputs rises but productivity falls due to pest resistance, resurgence and declining soil fertility.
Addressing the problem
The project aims to achieve the following changes:
Working with local partner L’Organisation Béninoise pour la Promotion de l’Agriculture Biologique (OBEPAB) to achieve these aims, the project will:
Who will benefit from the project?
Direct beneficiaries of on-farm training and exchange will include 550 farmers in Djidja, Setto and Sinendé. Participants and their families (approximately 2750) will benefit from improved income and food security and the whole community will benefit from reduced exposure to toxic pesticides. Indeed, the global population and environment will benefit from reductions in releases of persistent organic pollutant (POPs) pesticides.
Many of the skills gained by farmers will be transferable to other crops and enterprises and participants will be empowered to take on a more active role in decision-making within strengthened farmer organisations and community structures. These organisations will also gain advocacy skills and experience, helping them to influence policy and practice with respect to the cotton sector in Benin and beyond. There are more than 2 million cotton producers in the region. Indeed, the benefits of empowering farmers are likely to reach beyond the cotton sector, benefitting the agriculture sector in general, which employs 85% of the active population of Benin (total population 8.5m).
How will they benefit?
All participating farmers should expect to see a minimum increase in cotton yields of at least 20% within three years of adopting sustainable approaches to cotton production. It is envisaged that at least half of the participating farmers will have achieved a 20% increase in productivity by the end of the first year. It should be noted that these are conservative estimates.
In 2011, farmers trained by the project in the regions of Glazoue and Kandi achieved yields double those of the target farmers. At the same time they will eliminate the high cost of chemical inputs as well as the harmful impacts they have on human health and the environment. The training will give participants skills and knowledge that can be used on other crops as well as access to information, support and influence through farmers’ organizations. Participation in the project will give farmers important access to new markets and an organic premium of 20%.
Can alternatives to synthetic pesticides really bring greater income, improved health and greater food security and safety to African cotton farmers?
PAN UK and various of it’s partner organisations have successfully supported similar projects across sub-Saharan Africa, which have brought greater income, improved health and greater food security and safety to African cotton farmers.
The links below provide more information on the impact of non-chemical pesticide cotton production across parts of Africa:
The following are articles from PAN UK’s journal Pesticides News:
And here’s what just one African cotton farmer has to say
Evelyn Ate Kokale (Glazoué, Benin)
“It has been 5 years now since I decided to convert to organic cotton. I made this decision in 2001 because I had just suffered a miscarriage due to the use of pesticides. Organic cotton has given me more independence as a woman, because I receive a better income, and I am paid immediately after the harvest. I am now able to buy luxuries, clothing, crockery, something which is a real pleasure because I couldn’t do it before. And more importantly, my children’s health is no longer at risk.”