In Benin, women cotton growers embrace organic agriculture

Woman farmer in her field, Benin.
Women farmers in their fields. Photo: Giacomo Pirozzi for UNDP Benin

Each year, on average, Benin produces 220,000 tons of cotton, representing 45 percent of its fiscal income and 13 percent of its Gross National Product. Yet, in the northern municipality of Banikoara - Benin’s top cotton-producing region - the excessive use of chemical fertilizers by some cotton growers has contributed to the soil’s increased infertility. Other growers have insufficient income to buy seeds and fertilizers.

Mama Sambo Bapa, for her part, produces high quality organic cotton which  allows her to both restore degraded soil without having to endure long periods of fallowness, and be financially self-sufficient.

Highlights

  • Cotton is the main agricultural export in Benin. Farmers in Banikoara use approximately 80 percent of the chemical fertilizers and 90 percent of the imported pesticides in the country.
  • The cost of normal cotton production is five times higher than that of organic cotton.
  • In 3 years, the project has allowed the restoration of 250 hectares of degraded land and close to 1000 cotton growers saw their yield triple.

“As a woman, I was never able to work more than 0.25 hectares, but thanks to the loans to buy seeds and labor, I was able to sow half a hectare, which allowed me to earn US$205 in a single harvest,” she says.

The promotion of organic cotton cultivation is an initiative of the Association of Courageous and Active Women (AFVA), a woman’s NGO that works in the villages of Banikoara, where agricultural output has been steadily decreasing. In 2010, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) gave a helping hand to the initiative and provided more than US$30,000 in technical support and financing through the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme.

This contribution allowed women cotton growers to increase their agricultural output and boost their incomes. To protect their fields against pests, the women use a bio-pesticide, which they prepare themselves. They also fertilize the soil organically, helping maintain the soil.

In three years, close to 1000 organic farmers in Banikoara saw their cotton yield triple and 250 hectares of degraded land restored. Additionally, the women have received training in the diversifying their  agricultural activities, transforming  their products and improving their packaging.

With the revenues Mama Sambo Bapa earned selling cotton, she was able to invest in a small business selling cheese and soy. "I bought livestock, and the animals represent my savings," she explains.

The success of the women supported by AFVA is creating a lot of interest in neighboring municipalities, which conducted exchange visits to learn from this experience.

by Elsie Assogba