Fairtrade Cotton in Cameroon
Receiving the Fairtrade price for their seed cotton, as well as the additional Fairtrade premium for community projects, has already had substantial social and development impact for the farmers' groups in Cameroon who have been selling their cotton as Fairtrade since 2004.
The first Fairtrade cotton project in Cameroon began in April 2004 with six cotton Common Initiative Groups - GICs - of the Guider region of the country.
The procedure for choosing the Fairtrade groups was done democratically. The producers themselves are at the heart of the election process. This is to avoid any outside involvement liable to raise frustration and criticism. The choice of regions is made by the Governing Council, that of sectors by the regional committee and that of the GICs by the sector general assembly (sector GA).
In the sector GA, the group delegates elect the voluntary groups that have previously embraced the criteria they themselves have established with regards to Fairtrade standards. All these choices are validated by the Organisation of Cotton Producers of Cameroon (OPCC-GIE) general assembly.
Farmers who have seen the impact of Fairtrade for their neighbours are keen to become certified. As part of the original pilot project only three groups were certified, comprising around 750 members. With additional groups joining each year, including 146 new members in 2007, membership now stands at around 200, representing 32,000+ individual farmers.
The Impact of Fairtrade on the GIC Communities
In 2007 these groups sold 40% of their total production to Fairtrade buyers (2,850 tonnes of cotton fibre or lint). These members and their communities will benefit from a range of projects funded by the Fairtrade premium and agreed democratically by the whole group.
In 2005/06 they included 7 health centres, 9 ginning machines, 12 classrooms, 9 cereal stores, 19 water supply projects and 2 rural electrification programmes.
Clean drinking water wells have been a priority project for many communities where previously there were only water holes - dusty pools shared with animals. With the nearest health centres sometimes a day's travel away, another key area for investment has been hospital buildings and health facilities.
Secure, dry store rooms where cereals can be kept in good condition for long periods after harvesting have also been built, and many groups have purchased mechanised flour mills which significantly reduce the hard manual labour traditionally done by women, freeing up their time.
In the village of Lainde Massa, more than 600 pupils share five classrooms, some of which are just huts with straw roofs and tree trunks for benches. With no proper ventilation, and no school books or other teaching materials, it is difficult for the children to concentrate and make progress with their studies.
Only one teacher is paid by the government, the salaries of the other four are paid by the cotton producer group in the village: a sign of how highly the farmers value their children's education as a hope for the future. But the teachers desperately need continuous training to enable them to support the children and give them the motivation to remain in school. With the Fairtrade premium they recently received, the villagers plan to construct a new classroom and they have identified a spot for a new tube well close to the school, to provide drinking water for the children.
These changes in quality of life brought about by Fairtrade sales have brought self-confidence to the Fairtrade farmers and it is evident that they now have a clear vision for their future.
The Empowerment of Women
In some areas of Cameroon, in conventional (ie non-Fairtrade cotton) cotton farming groups tradition forbids women from speaking to men outside of their own family, and from working in the fields. Gradually this situation is changing, with some farming groups ensuring the inclusion of women in elected posts and their participation in meetings.
Fairtrade operates on principles of non-discrimination and requires farmers' organisations to include women in this way.
Among the Fairtrade groups it is clear that the women are moving towards a position of equality; the longer the group has been participating in Fairtrade, the closer the women sit to the men. Where previously the men preferred the women not to become cotton farmers, the communities now see the benefits of an increased income and an improved relationship between men and women. Producers even report that relations within the family have improved as a result of this shift in attitudes.
Preventing Child Labour
Fairtrade standards prohibit child labour other than to help on the family farm. There is significant evidence across Fairtrade cotton communities in Cameroon that the farmers take their children's education seriously - the building of numerous classrooms, the payment of teachers' salaries, the introduction of new water wells next to schools.
The Fairtrade Minimum Price
The Fairtrade minimum price is the minimum price that a buyer of Fairtrade products has to pay to a Producer Organisation for their product. It is not a fixed price, but should be seen as the lowest possible starting point for price negotiations between producer and purchaser. It is set at a level which ensures that Producer Organisations receive a price which covers the cost of sustainable production for their product. This means it also acts as a safety net for farmers at times when world markets fall below a sustainable level. However, when the market price is higher than the Fairtrade minimum, the buyer must pay the market price. Producers and traders can also negotiate a higher price, for example on the basis of quality, and for some products, Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) also sets different prices for organic crops, or for particular grades of produce.
The standards also allow producers to request partial pre-payment of the contract. This is important for small-scale farmers' organisations as it ensures they have the cash flow to pay farmers at the time they deliver their crop. Buyers are also required to enter into long-term trading relationships so that producers can predict their income and plan for the future.
Fairtrade minimum prices are set by the Standards Unit at FLO following research into producers' costs of sustainable production and consultation with traders and other stakeholders. The Fairtrade premium, is a sum paid in addition to the Fairtrade minimum price.
Training has enabled the producers to improve the way they administer GIC funds, in a transparent manner. Decisions are taken at the general assembly and opinions are not imposed. Elections are currently taking place in a democratic manner. Financial records are presented to the sector General Assembly at the end of each cotton season, and are readily accessible to farmers, to assure transparency.
Fairtrade environmental criteria are intended to ensure that producer organisations make environmental protection an integral part of farm management. There are clear rules relating to the use of chemicals, disposal of waste, and protection of natural resources. Producer groups are expected to minimise the use of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and to gradually replace them with natural fertilisers and biological methods of disease control.
Where socially and economically practical, they are encouraged to work towards organic practices; the use of genetically modified organisms is prohibited. The farmers receive training from both OPCC and SODECOTON on how to work the land sustainably. One key element is crop rotation, most farmers alternating the cultivation of corn, millet, sorghum, peanut or beans with their cotton crop. A particular government project called 'Eau Sol Arbre' ('Water, Sun, Tree') is aimed at protecting the soil from erosion by water and wind. The project protects trees, and stipulates that each plot must have at least 20 trees per hectare. Another more recent scheme encourages farmers to sow vegetables in amongst other crops.
The approach towards pest and weed control tends to be 'prevention is better than cure', for example through cutting back the cotton plant stems after harvesting so that they are less vulnerable to insects, and therefore need less application of pesticide. The remaining plant is used as animal feed. In order to further reduce the use of agrochemicals, farmers are carrying out tests using half of the usual dosage.