Cotton is one of Tanzania’s most important exports. However, conventional farming methods are creating problems for the country. For instance, the use of pesticides is contaminating the soil and groundwater, while smallholders and their workers, who frequently use the most basic methods and resources, are putting their health at risk. The lack of crop diversity and hardier pests are also reducing farmers’ yields and economic output.
When it comes to growing organic cotton, it’s a different story: no pesticides are used, meaning that the soil and groundwater are preserved. New economic opportunities are emerging as global demand is growing and, at times, exceeding supply. As well as the higher prices that organic cotton can command, other important economic considerations for Tanzanian producers include lower production costs and increased crop yields.
The German development agency GIZ is supporting organic cotton farming in Tanzania. To this end, they are working with the Swiss development organisation Helvetas on behalf of the C&A Foundation. The commission is being carried out by GIZ’s International Services business area. The aim is to boost organic cotton production and give the producers in Tanzania access to the global market.
Working with local cotton companies, the farmers are trained in various areas of organic farming. These sessions provide them with skills and knowledge that they can use to grow produce in a way that protects the environment and yields good harvests, for example by rotating cotton with chickpeas and maize and using natural methods of pest control. These organic pesticides are currently still provided by the companies, although the medium-term plan is to enable farmers to make and sell their own, giving them a further source of income. In the first harvest season after the project began, some organic farmers were already managing to achieve higher yields than those using the conventional cotton farming methods. One of the project’s principle objectives is to promote the products on local and international sales markets with higher prices, thereby increasing the farmers’ income.
Farmers are also learning how to think and act entrepreneurially in the Farmer Business Schools (FBS), an initiative that GIZ is now running in 15 African countries to support smallholders. The FBS in Tanzania is demonstrating the benefits of switching to organic cotton and teaching the specific business management skills required to do so. No fewer than 8,000 farmers took part in the first cotton season and a further 10,000 are expected to have joined them by 2020.
GIZ is also helping cotton companies to gather and manage extensive data about farming, enabling them to obtain organic cotton certification, which is increasingly required on the market. Around 6,900 farmers are already certified, some 45 percent of Tanzania’s organic cotton farmers.