200 cotton farmers in Ethiopia are the first EVER in the country to gain organic certification! This TRAID funded project launched in 2013 with 90 farmers, and today is flourishing with over 2,000 farmers taking part.

It’s a hugely significant moment for farmers who want to grow pesticide-free cotton in Ethiopia, and the project, supported by Pesticide Action Network and delivered in-country by PAN Ethiopia, is well on its way to more farmers becoming accredited.

Successes like this demonstrate that genuine change which improves the lives, incomes, health and environment of the people who make our clothes IS possible. Not only are the lives and land of the farmers made safer by growing without using hazardous pesticides, but also their families and the communities in which they live.

Farmer Field School training
Farmer Field School training

Farmers are trained on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques in Farmer Field Schools and are now achieving cotton yields over 100% higher than untrained farmers in the same area. They have also seen increases of 77% in the price per kg of cotton since the start of the project. Without drenching their crops with harmful pesticides.

The project trains ‘lead’ farmers, who then provide support to 10 ‘follower’ farmers in their area. Farmers are trained in soil and water health, ecological pest management principles and learning to grow other crops alongside cotton. Typically, this knowledge has disappeared as reliance on pesticides has taken hold.

Training farmers in soil and water management techniques
Training farmers in soil and water management techniques

Farmers in the project also use natural pesticides – a homemade food spray – which are made from local ingredients like ground neem seeds. It is used to attract ‘good’ insects to their fields which eat the pests which threaten their crops.

The project trains farmers to use natural rather than chemical pesticides to protect their crops.
The project trains farmers to use natural rather than chemical pesticides to protect their crops.

A version of this spray has already been used successfully in Benin, West Africa in another TRAID funded project supporting organic farmers, and some of these Beninese farmers went to Ethiopia to share learning at the start of the project.

Ethiopian farmers now report that for the first time after years of pesticide use, buzzing bees are returning to their fields, which also means they can increase their incomes by keeping hives and selling honey.

Bees are returning to fields now farmers are growing cotton without pesticides
Bees are returning to fields now farmers are growing cotton without pesticides

Before the project, these farmers were using pesticides heavily and indiscriminately to manage fussy fragile cotton crops. Like millions of other small-holder cotton farmers around the world, crops were sprayed by hand with old equipment and no protective clothing.

The health implications are severe. Globally, nearly 1,000 people are estimated to die every day from acute pesticide poisoning. Many hundreds of thousands more suffer from chronic ill health, including cancers, neurological diseases and infertility.

Farmers become trapped in a spiral of crop mismanagement and debt, spending up to 60% of their income on pesticides while they struggle to grow on poor soil depleted by pesticide overuse

With farmers, their families and surrounding communities so negatively impacted by pesticide use, the continued development of organic cotton production is essential, and this work shows that an agro-ecological approach is working for farmers and helping to removing hazardous pesticides from the environment.

TRAID incredibly proud of the farmers and the team at PAN Ethiopia who have worked so hard to move from growing conventionally to becoming pesticide-free. Thank you also to everyone who donate unwanted clothes to us, and shops in our charity shops. It enables TRAID to raise money to support projects like this which are ending exploitation and harm which is so widespread in our textile supply and production chains.