Enhancing Regional Trade through a Full Value Chain Project under Better Cotton Initiative

Actif Logo
Cotton Initiative

The African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation (ACTIF) is a regional federation formed in 2005 that aims to promote trade and increase market for cotton, textile and apparel industries in sub-Saharan Africa. ACTIF, in partnership with TradeMark East Africa Research and Advocacy Challenge Fund (TRAC), along with their other national and international consortium partners,  are implementing a unique project aimed at building an ethical textile supply chain in East Africa. The project, awarded in September 2014 also seeks to raise the profile of certified sustainable cotton among local textile & apparel producers and link them target buyers in regional and international markets, through an integrated supply chain resulting in an improvement in farm yields and profitability for cotton cultivators.

The project was initially planned around working with Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton product that is linked to Textile Mills, then to Garment Manufacturing and finally to the end buyers in Europe. BCI brings together value-chain participants (inc. producers, traders, spinners, clothing manufacturers, retailers and others) in a unique global community committed to developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. Over 1,000 farmers were involved at the production stage in Kerio Valley in Kenya.

From an environmental perspective, the project is helping the farmers to grow cotton in a way that saves water and reduces the use of fertilizers and pesticides and reduces the stress on the local environment, resulting in improved yields for farmers with an increment in profitability of 10% over the project’s timeframe. This will also improve the livelihoods and welfare of farming communities. BCI aims to create long-term change through this project. It is a global approach that provides a solution for the mainstream cotton industry, including both smallholders and large scale farmers.

While the plan was to secure BCI certification of participating farmers – BCI certification within the current project period wasn’t feasible, due to delays in the start of the rainy season which set back the certification activities. As a result, there was a need to change the certification body from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) in order to implement the project within the project period. CmiA was selected owing to the similarity in their sustainable properties, the existing partnership between CmiA and BCI and the fact that the EU buyers also recognize it as a sustainable cotton brand. While there was a change in focus to CmiA, the BCI cotton activities (especially on farm level) would still go on, but certification will only be possible in 2016 beyond the project’s timeframe. The change in certification bodies required the milestones to be revised.

The amended milestones comprised of the following, with milestones 1 and 2 being achieved:

  1. the achievement of at least 1,000 farmers participating in the project by the end of the 1st quarter; awareness raising activities among ginners, yarn & fabric and garment manufacturers completed and approved; the completion of a BCI consultant project study report for value addition

  2. CmiA registration for 1 yarn manufacturer and 3 garment manufacturers

  3. the production and presentation of samples of CmiA certified product to at least 3 garment manufacturers from East Africa and such samples presented to potential EU buyers

  4. 33% increase in farmers’ yield and at least one CmiA order recorded from East Africa

Cotton Farm

Project Outcomes

ACTIF Farmers
  • A total of 28 Learning Groups (LGs), complete with demonstration farms, have been formed for the training of participating farmers with an average membership of 25 farmers. Each of the demonstration farms consists of 2-3 knowledge-sharing farmers. The total registered number of farmers participating in the project is 924, with 800 contracted in the first season. The LG is the key entry point for capacity building and BCI certification.
  • 22 Smallholder’s sensitization meetings have been held, involving 350 farmers with 600 farmers indirectly benefiting from best practice transfers and networking support.
  • The CmiA contract was successfully signed by Fine Spinners Uganda Limited (FSUL), a yarn manufacturer along with three garment manufacturers i.e. Alpha Knits Ltd, Kiboko Leisure Wear Ltd and also Fine Spinners Uganda Limited (a vertically integrated mill but including a garment section).

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Despite the acknowledged successes, the project’s implementation was not entirely challenge free as there were delays in the accomplishments of the agreed milestones; the main obstacles to progress including the following:
  • There was a delay in the release of inputs to the farmers owing to some supply challenges experienced by the ginners, however this was later resolved after a delayed time frame (the ginners supplied the farmers later on) and facilitated planting of the cotton crop.
  • Many farmers felt de-motivated to plant cotton due to the rains being delayed by 2 months at the beginning of 2015; however, the amount of rainfall that occurred after the delays was an improvement than the previous year (2014). This resulted in only 628 out of the original 1,000 farmers (who had been recruited earlier) planting their crops. However, this number is expected to increase when others continue to respond by planting, even though late.
  • For the companies to be given a special offer for BCI membership, they are required to first provide their audited financial statements for the previous year. Fine Spinners Uganda Ltd happens to be the only company in East Africa region that currently has the capacity to produce quality yarn for processing and export to EU. They were already prepared to supply the other companies with the necessary raw materials for them to meet the sample orders being developed in EU. However, being a new company that has been in operation for less than one year, they are not able to provide previous financial records which are part of BCI’s requirements.
Kenya Manufacturing

Conclusion

The textile and clothing manufacturing value chain in Kenya is currently disjointed, due in part to low local production of cotton, but the sector has a great potential for growth albeit supported at the moment through third country fabric importation, mainly from Asia. However, the availability of cotton in Uganda and Tanzania provides an opportunity for full value chain projects within East Africa. This project has the potential of being replicated across the East African region with a direct link to farmers producing greater volumes of cotton in a way that is measurably better for the environment and farming communities with best practice transfers within the East African Community and beyond.