by Martine Parry, Media and PR Manager - The Fairtrade Foundation
Kady is one of West Africa’s 10 million cotton farmers. She and her family grow their own food, but their cash comes from growing cotton.
The farmers’ group in Kady’s village in Senegal began to see benefits of Fairtrade with training courses they were given, to produce better quality cotton, to get higher yields, to improve health and safety.
When it came to harvest time, they are paid a guaranteed price for their produce, above the market price. And the farmers’ group is also paid the Fairtrade Premium – that the group decides what to do with, men and women together.
The Premium has been used in Senegal to help many of the women and girls in the community - to build and furnish schools, and to buy packs of stationery, books and schoolbags for students. Some has gone on projects for clean drinking water. Some has been spent helping build and equip clinics, and to train villagers in health care and midwifery.
The processes involved have made groups of cotton farmers stronger and more able to look after their own interests, to deal with government officials, to engage with other groups. In short, to unlock the power that they hold when they work together to drive change.
Whilst all around the world, International Women's Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, sadly it’s not all good news.
Kady’s cooperative, and many others, are desperate to sell more of their cotton on Fairtrade terms. Their Fairtrade sales have been low for the past couple of years.
Maybe this is because more of us need to start asking more questions like ‘who made my clothes?’ And demanding that fashion brands source cotton from sustainable supply chains. This lack of awareness and transparency is resulting in desperate poverty. The price of cotton has slumped in the last 30 years, even though the cost of producing it has risen and that means farmers in places like India, Kyrgyzstan and West Africa are struggling to survive.
Do fashion lovers realise that as many as 100m rural households – 90 percent of them in developing countries – are directly engaged in cotton production?
An estimated 350m people work in the cotton sector when family labour, farm labour and workers in connected services such as transportation, ginning, baling and storage are taken into account. Yet cotton farmers are at the end of a long and complex supply chain in which they are virtually invisible and wield little power or influence. With high levels of illiteracy and limited land holdings, many cotton farmers live below the poverty line and are dependent on the middle men or ginners who buy their cotton, often at prices below the cost of production.
To help increase sales for cotton farmers like Kady, fashion brands can now work with Fairtrade Cotton on two ways – either the finished product is certified as Fairtrade, or using the new Fairtrade Sourcing Program you can commit to sourcing a certain amount of cotton on Fairtrade terms. Whichever route they choose, their commitment to Fairtrade Cotton means better lives for the cotton farmers like Kady who grew your cotton.
Start asking questions this International Women’s Day and help women like Kady get a better deal.
Watch this short film to learn more about cotton farmers in Senegal http://fairtrade.tumblr.com/post/77793735369/how-do-cotton-farmers-in-senegal-use-fairtrade