CREATING SUSTAINABLE FUTURES
19th May, 2021
Back in 2014, we saw an opportunity to partner with the Kenyan Government to support small farming communities in Kwale, Kenya. The goal was to help create a sustainable agricultural program that would have a positive impact for generations to come. The Africa Cotton Program makes that possible. Working directly with farmers to transition them to more sustainable cotton farming practices that are kinder to the planet, and improve the livelihoods of the people who produce it.
In seven years, we’ve supported over 15,000 farmers so far—and we’re just getting started. With success in driving economic and employment growth, the Kenyan government is now replicating the program across the country, and into Mozambique. We’ve also launched our first range of graphic tees made with sustainably sourced single-origin cotton from the program. Cotton On has an ongoing commitment to purchase 100% of the cotton produced from the Africa Cotton Program.
Developing Sustainable Farming Practices
Giving farmers the knowledge and tools to adopt sustainable farming practices means they can care for their farms long-term. Through the program, farmers are trained in water conservation, soil biodiversity and how to responsibly manage their farms in a way that cares for the environment. The result is better crop rotations that are more climate and pest resistant, which means farmers are able to harvest cotton even during the dry season. These practices are adapted to other crops that feed their families, and create surplus for more income opportunities.
“I relied on rain-fed farming, but through training, now know that cotton can be grown through irrigation. Now, even during the dry season, I can continue to get money through the cotton program. The money goes a long way in supporting my family.” – Catherine Kiio, Kwale cotton farmer
Creating Jobs and Income Stability
In many areas where job opportunities are scarce, secure income streams are a very real challenge for African farmers. By developing relationships with global buyers, farmers in the Africa Cotton Program can have a stable income and are able to send their kids to school, secure healthcare or invest in housing and crop expansion. We helped to start conversations between farmers and our global supply chain, so that they understood the quality standards required of the cotton they produced, and also became involved directly in the negotiations surrounding their cotton sales. Beyond that, the PAVI Kwale Farmers’ Co-operative was also formed. This gave the farmers a united voice in negotiations with the suppliers, and represented the farmers’ interests to the local and federal government.
“Before the program, my house was a makuti thatched (using palm leaves as roofing), a semi-permanent house. But today, I have a permanent house courtesy of the program. I can pay my children’s school fees and still remain with some money to take care of other family needs.” – Mahmoud Omar Massemoh, Kwale cotton farmer
Empowering Local Women
Alongside developing practical skills, the Africa Cotton Program gives women in Kwale the opportunity to be financially independent and part of the decision-making in their communities. Currently, 74% of the farmers in the program are women, some of which are the primary providers for their family. Three women also hold board positions in the PAVI Co-op, and community meetings are now 40% women. Much of the momentum and success of the program so far is because of the engagement and interest shown by women in the community. Our goal is to reach more women and marginalised groups so that they can continue to provide for their families.
Building Strong Communities
For Kwale, the impact of this program is felt beyond the farmers and their families. With more money being invested back into the community, employment opportunities are rising. Overall, incomes in Kwale are higher, where previously they were sitting at less than USD $1 per day. More kids are able to attend school and income streams are diversifying, thanks to new agricultural knowledge. Over 90,000 community members are now benefiting from the changes made by the Africa Cotton Program.
“I have seen developments in the community, particularly in homes owned by cotton farmers. Some have dug boreholes, and others have used the money they get from cotton to start new businesses.” – Annastacia Katunge Kimeu, Kwale cotton farmer
Our Africa Cotton Program is made possible through our partnership with the Government of the Republic of Kenya, the local Kwale Government, Business for Development and Base Titanium Limited.
From producing cotton that’s kinder to the planet, to improving the livelihoods of the people who produce it, our journey towards sustainably sourced cotton is only beginning. We’re excited to continue supporting and empowering communities around the world.
The Cotton On Group is proud to be recognised for the Africa Cotton Program as the 2019 Responsible Retailer Initiative of the Year at the World Retail Congress Awards.