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ADDIS ABABA – 200 cotton farmers in Ethiopia have become the first ever in the country to receive organic certification. The farmers are part of a pioneering project training small-scale cotton growers to reduce and stop their use of dangerous pesticides. The project began in 2013 with 90 farmers, and today has over 2,000 farmers taking part, with the first official organic cotton accreditations secured on 26 December 2017. The project is in three districts of the Awash River basin of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley region.

This is a notable step for Ethiopia, which is looking to increase its overall cotton production capacity in order to provide a feedstock for its growing textile industry and reduce dependency on cotton imports.

The project is funded by TRAID, supported by the Pesticide Action Network UK, and delivered in-country by PAN Ethiopia.

Maria Chenoweth, CEO at TRAID said: “Since 2009, TRAID has committed nearly £1,000,000 to support cotton farmers to stop using hazardous pesticides and use safer more sustainable alternatives. In Ethiopia, the farmers involved in this project will now get the organic premium for their cotton, and are the first in the country to do so. It’s a hugely significant moment and the project is well on its way to more farmers becoming accredited.”

Tadesse Amera, director of PAN Ethiopia added: “The project has helped farmers to achieve yields higher than those in conventional farming and has reduced agro-chemical dependency and its related negative human health and environmental impacts.”

Farmers working in the project have been trained on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and are now said to be achieving cotton yields over 100 per cent higher than untrained farmers in the same area. They are also said to have seen increases of 77 per cent in the price per kg of cotton since the start of the project.

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.

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.

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