Exchange and learn: West Africa visits India on Better Cotton Initiative

A team of four exchange delegates from Mali in West Africa, including farmers and the National Coordinator of the Association Producteurs de Coton Africians (AProCA), recently went on a training visit to the Solidaridad Cotton Solutions Network team in India, where they learned more about achievements in the sector.The trip was part of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) process in learning and exchange between the countries, and made possible by the Turing Foundation, which support the programme in Mali.

The first order of day on the November trip was to attend a seminar on cotton fiber quality organised by the Solidaridad Cotton Solutions Network (SCSN) in collaboration with Agrocel Industries Ltd at the Ahmedabad Textile Industry Research Association (ATIRA) Training Program Center. The workshop was attended by over 40 technical officers from Solidaridad who support cotton projects in India. The four delegates from Mali were Mdme Tata Coulibaly, Issa Sidibe, Zana Diarra and Ampha Coulibaly. Technical sessions at the workshop were led by Dinesh Gurnani, a member of the SCSN team, consultant Vijesh Trivedi and trainers from Agrocel and the ATIRA. 

Farmers explain benefits of Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

The West Africa team also toured the Shreyas Foundation in Ahmedabad where they were exposed to India’s rich cultural and textile heritage. Later the team and BCI technical officers visited an Agrocel ginning unit at Dharangadhara about 3 hours from Ahmedabad, where a tour of the automatic ginning and seed crushing facilities was undertaken. The ginnery has 650 organic seed cotton, 1 920 fair-trade and 2 550 BCI suppliers. A visit to the Agrocel learning group at Ganshyam Gadh village, led by Mr Jignesh Patel from Agrocel, enabled the team to inspect the cotton and castor farms of 300 farmers, of which 60 were BCI certified.

Farmers in this part of Gurajat Province follow a sharecropping model where proceeds are shared in a 70:30 ratio between land owner and farmer. Average land holdings are 4-5acres and some farmers have been BCI certified for the past 3 years. The farmers indicated to the delegates that the difference between them and non-BCI farmers was that they had reduced the cost of water, increased yields and had developed knowledge in good agricultural practices. The SCSN team made a presentation on their BCI activities to the West African team. Solidaridad is one of the Implementing Partners of BCI covering five BCI and three pre-BCI projects across in India.

BCI impact on livelihoods

Towards the end of November, the team travelled by bus to a BCI project at Hampapura in the southern part of the Karnataka Province, about 32 km from Mysore. The MYCAPS BCI project has been operational since 2010. The focus of the MYCAPS board is on livelihood projects. Its operational area covers 31,000ha out of 194,000ha in the region. Most beneficiaries are illiterate, smallholder and marginal farmers with average holdings of 0.3ha. Rainfall in the area averages 550mm and plants are sown after summer rains. Production is mainly rain-fed as only 5% of farms are irrigated. Cotton has been planted over the past 3 decades in the region as the safest for cultivation due to destruction of crops by elephants whose habitats have been encroached upon by human settlements.

Improving BCI in West Africa

The AProCA delegates described the Indian trip as very important in exposing them in how to structure BCI project support as undertaken by the SCSN team. The strategic spread of projects throughout production regions of India and periodic assessment meetings to ensure correct implementation, were flagged as another critical highlight. It also illustrated the level of private sector support provided to cotton farmers by processing companies which require ensuring sustainable supplies of seed cotton. Furthermore, it enabled the West African team to identify the SCSN team as a veritable cotton technical team which can be accessed to improve the mechanics of growing BCI standard crops in West Africa. 

The written account of this visit was made possible by Charles Addo, who was part of the trip.