Massatoma Mounkoro is the son of cotton farmers and now works as Manager of MOBIOM’s Centre of Competence.
Massatoma’s role includes establishing and managing an internal control system (ICS) to ensure compliance with Fairtrade standards; training producers to meet these standards; training staff in related administration procedures; facilitating Fairtrade and organic inspections and audits; and monitoring projects funded by the Fairtrade premium and approved by members.
MOBIOM (Malian Organic Movement) is the umbrella organisation for 73 village co-operatives in the Sikasso region of southern Mali that grow Fairtrade organic cotton and mangoes.
In spite of the huge importance of cotton to the global textile industry, world market prices have been in long-tem decline in real terms since the 1970s, notwithstanding a recent upturn in cotton and other commodity prices linked to the global financial crisis and Pakistan’s cotton production being hit by severe flooding. While some of this decline can be explained by reductions in production costs and strong competition from synthetic fibres, the major cause is the payment of subsidies by rich cotton producing countries – notably, the US, China and the EU – to protect the domestic production of cotton and related industries. As a result cotton farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are struggling to survive, while developing countries which rely on cotton exports are losing out on vital foreign exchange earnings that could be allocated to health, education and other social development projects.
In 1998, local NGO Helvetas Mali set up an organic cotton programme with the aim of improving farmers’ incomes, supporting sustainable production, and reducing the harmful effects of conventional cotton production on community health and the environment. Helvetas Mali helped found MOBIOM in 2002 specifically to participate in the programme. The supply chain that was put in place forms the basis of the organic Fairtrade cotton supply chain that was started in the region in 2004 as a joint project between Helvetas Mali, Max Havelaar Switzerland (the Swiss Fairtrade organisation) and US global cotton trader Reinhart Inc.
MOBIOM’s mission is to increase the incomes of members by improving the organisation’s operational performance, increase production, promote Fairtrade and organic cotton production, and market members’ products. It also promotes product diversification as a strategic response to the fluctuations of the cotton market and to adjust to the effects of climate change such as unreliable rainfall. It has supported members in producing organic certified sesame, groundnuts (peanuts), shea butter and fonio (a type of millet) as cash crops which are sold on domestic and international markets. MOBIOM is now exploring Fairtrade certification for these last two products and has plans to install sesame oil processing plants and construct a spinning mill which would generate considerable incomes, particularly for women.
Originally a federation of 16 co-operatives with a membership of 174 farmers, MOBIOM has grown to 73 co-operatives with 6,547 members, of which 30% or almost 2,000 are women. Seventy of the co-operatives grow cotton and three in the Bougouni zone grow mangoes. In 2009, MOBIOM produced 1,054 tonnes of cotton and 23 tonnes of mangoes.
Like all rural areas of Mali, the villages where MOBIOM members live have a high level of poverty and poor local infrastructure, with a lack of access to good roads, clean water, and healthcare. School attendance is low with most children helping their parents in the fields instead of going to school.
Agricultural households are typically between 12 and 30 people, made up of extended families of two to three brothers with their wives and between four and seven children each. Cotton farms can extend to 10ha but the average farm is 2.6ha, with a little less than 1ha under cotton. Mango farms are smaller at 2ha on average. Families depend on agriculture and rearing livestock for their livelihoods. Men are responsible for growing the family’s staple foods of cereals and groundnuts while women cultivate small plots of groundnuts, maize, vegetables and rice to supplement the family’s diet or to sell at market. Men also rear cattle and women raise goats and poultry – livestock are seen more as insurance and would only be sold in times of great need. Households derive additional income from the small-scale trade in wood and condiments by women and from charcoal production by men.
Cotton is planted in June and July and the peak harvest period is October to November. When the seed pod or cotton boll is ripe it bursts to expose the seed cotton – the seeds attached to raw cotton fibre – which is then picked by hand. Farmers carry their crop by cart, bicycle or on their head to a central organic store ready for sale. All MOBIOM’s cotton is purchased by CMDT (Malian Textile Development Company) which owns the only ginning factories in Mali and is the sole exporter. It is a public-private enterprise responsible for managing the production, transport and marketing of cotton as well as seed distribution and providing agricultural training to producers. The ginning process separates the seeds from the cotton fibre or lint which is then compressed into large bales. Cotton seed is used locally for cooking oil, animal feed and industrial purposes.
Other products like sesame, groundnuts and shea nuts are sold at the same market but mangoes are transported directly to the packing station after they are harvested. MOBIOM markets their mangoes and negotiates prices with buyers on behalf of members.
MOBIOM & Fairtrade
MOBIOM’s production of seed cotton was organic certified by ECOCERT in 2002, followed later by mangoes. These products were Fairtrade certified in September 2004, although MOBIOM doesn’t currently have a Fairtrade buyer for mangoes.
All MOBIOM’s seed cotton is currently sold to Fairtrade buyers via CMDT. MOBIOM receives the Fairtrade minimum price of €0.50/kg (FCFA 328) for Fairtrade organic cotton, compared to €0.26/kg (FCFA 170) which is the rate for conventional cotton. Cotton contributes 50% of MOBIOM members’ income and this higher price alleviates poverty in several ways: it increases their food security and ability to purchase food, ensuring they have enough food all year round; it helps cover the costs of primary healthcare needs, children’s school fees, and clothing for the family, and also enables repayment of loans and investment in other income-generating activities. For example, farmers have been able to invest in the purchase of animals, carts, bicycles, and mopeds, and build houses with corrugated iron roofs.
On top of the minimum price, MOBIOM receives the Fairtrade premium of €0.05/kg (FCFA34) to invest in business or community development. Just under half of the premium is used to cover MOBIOM’s operating costs and the remainder is used by the co-operatives to finance community projects selected by their members and approved by MOBIOM. A number of projects are ongoing and others are awaiting approval or allocation of funds. Recent completed projects included:
- Construction of 17 storehouses for secure storage of farm inputs and the separate storage of the organic cotton harvest
- Construction of a literacy centre to continue efforts to address the high illiteracy rate: over 80% of MOBIOM’s members are illiterate, which creates difficulties in the management of the co-operatives and particularly in the dissemination of information about production, markets and contracts
- Construction of a maternity clinic with midwife – a huge benefit for pregnant women with complications, who would otherwise have to travel 25 kilometres along mainly bumpy dirt tracks to receive treatment
- Dozens of bore holes have been sunk and three large-diameter wells constructed to provide safe drinking water for villagers and their livestock. These projects have significantly reduced the workload of women who no longer have to carry out the time-consuming and strenuous task of collecting water
- Construction of two cereal banks where members can store cereal and improve food security. Farmers have to sell cereals before they rot unless they have clean, dry and secure storage facilities
- Purchase and repair of primary school desks and benches. Ideally members would like to build more schools but unfortunately sufficient premium funds are not available.