Producing more cotton at a lower cost and without pollution

The adoption of sustainable farming practices allows small farmers of cotton in West Africa to increase their yields and incomes, reduce their use of toxic pesticides and protect the environment and their health.

These are  the results of a training program for small farmers using the approach of Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) through the Farmers Field Schools (FFS), executed by FAO in four francophone countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal). The programme is being carried out with the financial support of multiple donors, including the “EU-ACP countries programme on agricultural commodities including cotton” (known as AAACP) and the Sub-Regional programme of Integrated Pest Management funded by the Royal Government of the Netherlands.

In Mali, a survey conducted of cotton farmers in 65 villages who were trained in 2007-2008 showed a 94% reduction in the use of chemical pesticides and a 400% increase in the use of organic amendments (compost, manure), which is needed to fight the decline in soil fertility. In Burkina Faso in 2009, IPPM helped increase yields from between 14 and 68%. Almost 16,000 cotton farmers have been trained by the project, and that number should at least double by the end of 2011. Nearly 500 trainers in key sectors have been trained, including producer organizations, private and public sector processors (ginners) and extension workers, in order to bring the approach to small farmers.

An approach internationally recognized and well-known in West Africa among producers and local research institutes, IPPM is guided by the principles of agro-ecology; it promotes good farming practices, diversification of cropping systems, use of adapted varieties, use of organic amendments and alternative methods to chemical pesticide use, such as biological control and botanical and biological pesticides. Chemical pesticides can be used only as a last resort, only if registered for the target crop, and are the least toxic chemicals available.

The participatory training methods of Farmer Field Schools explore the knowledge of trainers and farmers of their agro-ecosystem and focus on learning from experience.  Typically, a group of around twenty farmers led by a 'facilitator' (trainer), prepares paired  plots in their village, one plot using local conventional methods and another plot using IPPM methods appropriate for the area: during the course of the season the farmers observe and compare results from the two plots.

"The Farmers Field Schools approach has been extremely popular among cotton producers because it places them at the centre of diagnosis and decision making. Its promotion at large scale is needed, "said Leonce Sanou, Coordinator of the National Union of Cotton Producers in Burkina (UNPC-B). After observation of the results in Mali and local testing with support from the FAO, the UNPCB has created a technical support unit to coordinate the training of dozens of local trainers and farmer trainers who will afterwards train thousands of small farmers.

"The training I received last year in IPPM gave me more knowledge, from the observations, the discoveries and the practical experience, than from my last 20 years of work in extension. And producers are doing very well, "said Mamadou Tomoda, Extension Agent at the Office de la Haute Vallée du Niger in Mali.

Emphasis is also placed on food security and income diversification, as the training focuses on the entire cropping system: producers grow cotton in rotation with cereals such as corn or soybeans, or in association with legumes or other subsistence crops. The diversification of cropping systems helps to develop both economic and ecological resilience.

The IPPM approach continues to be of major benefit in helping producers to cope with the economic crisis that has faced the African cotton sectors for many years due to fluctuations in world cotton prices, changes in the euro/dollar rate and structural problems. Cotton represents an average of 70% of export earnings for the cotton producing countries of West Africa. According to the Association of West African cotton farmers, 15 million people depend on cotton for their survival. Structural solutions are being sought by countries and their partners to support the sector and to find opportunities for diversification.

The IPPM approach has elicited strong enthusiasm in the sub-region. In Mali and Senegal, the main industrial processors (ginners) are co-financing the training of their technicians: the companies SODEFITEX in Senegal and CMDT in Mali are seeking to have all of their agents receive training in IPPM. "We must train all officers on IPPM, so that all farmers are reached," insists Barthélémy Gagnon, Permanent Secretary of the Inter-professional Association of Cotton in Benin. The approach has also been included in the Action Framework for the EU-Africa partnership on cotton, which justifies the financial support of the EU.

By 2011, 260 new trainers and nearly 20,000 additional cotton farmers will have been trained. This initiative gives hope for small farmers in West Africa, although efforts must continue to be expanded.

For more information, see the attached case study (1.7 MB !) on the "Sub-regional program of Integrated Pest Management in West Africa"


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