Interview with Christian Barthel, Cotton made in Africa.
As an initiative of the Aid by Trade Foundation, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) has been committed to sustainable cotton production in Africa since 2005 to improve the living and working conditions of cotton farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and sells the cotton with the CmiA seal on the global textile production markets. In an interview with the Cotton Report, Christian Barthel, Director of Business Development for Cotton made in Africa, talks about the successes and opportunities, as well as the current and future challenges of sustainable cotton cultivation in Africa.
Mr. Barthel, could you please give us a brief overview of the current work of Cotton made in Africa.
CmiA is currently working with over one million smallholders in nine sub-Saharan African countries. The CmiA certified cotton is processed worldwide – both in Africa and in the traditional textile production markets such as Bangladesh, China, Turkey or Pakistan. The driving force behind this initiative is the continuous increase in demand from companies and brands for CmiA cotton, as well as the cooperation with textile producers worldwide. The revenue from licenses paid by each partner company is reinvested by CmiA in the growing regions. Last year alone, license revenues exceeded EUR 2 million. The range of partners stretches from Aldi to Armani and includes Bonprix, OTTO, Tchibo, the Rewe Group, Aldi Süd, Bestseller, Asos or Tendam Retail. Around 90 million textiles carried the CmiA label last year alone.
About 75 percent of African cotton is exported, in many countries significantly more. What are the chances for more value added in Africa? What are the risks and challenges?
In recent years we have seen a growing interest in Africa as a textile production market. Partners such as Bonprix or Tendam Retail are already producing textiles made of CmiA cotton in Africa. Exploiting this potential further can be a great opportunity for the continent to create jobs locally and to participate in the textile value chain.
Each country has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the textile industry in Kenya is already well developed, but unfortunately almost no cotton is grown or processed there. Instead, finished fabrics are often imported.
Governments can also play a big role: if a country is open to foreign capital and know-how, people in the country can benefit from investment and training opportunities. There is undoubtedly a risk in that investments are of course only worthwhile if there is a return on investment after a certain time. For this, trading companies from Europe and the USA must place orders in correspondingly large quantities.
A prerequisite for success is also that performance, punctuality and price are right. The continent already has very good manufacturing operations, but sometimes they are not ready to meet all the requirements of Western buyers. CmiA also sees itself here as a “matchmaker” by bringing our interested customers together with production companies in Africa. For we see great opportunities in processing cotton “from field to fashion” – i.e. from the cotton field to the finished textile – in Africa.
Although yields in African countries have improved in part, they are generally at the lower end. Where do you see further potential for improvement?
Despite the large differences in yields between the regions, which should not be ignored, there is great potential for improvement in the further development of the seed. It is important to consider the special requirements of rainfed agriculture and the increasing impact of climate change during seed development. Here, CmiA is in dialogue with various institutions, supporting the networking among the partners and is ensuring that people are listening to this topic. Furthermore, regular training of small farmers in sustainable farming methods plays a crucial role. Mobile digital solutions will play an increasingly important role here in the future: from SMS services, for example for weather forecasts, which help make decisions about sowing time or the application of fertilisers, to mobile apps that can identify pests.
Sustainability and traceability go hand in hand. What measures and methods are you currently using to create transparency in the supply chain, and where do you think development is going?
In the further processing of cotton, we differentiate between the variants Hard Identity Preserved (HIP) and Mass Balance (MB). Both systems guarantee complete traceability from cultivation through the ginning plant to the spinning mill. After that, they are different and the degree of transparency changes accordingly. We have significantly expanded our services and related products in the last 12 months. Customers benefit from a simple but effective tracking system. We ensure the traceability of their purchases by means of a tracking tool. CmiA provides the maintenance, and thus the traceability in the system, as a service for our business partners.
With which measures are you supporting greater demand for CmiA cotton?
Our USP is the individual support of our partners – in marketing and in the procurement markets. Trade show appearances, webinars or workshops that provide support and an exchange of information on the implementation of CmiA in the chain, and are largely held in the textile production markets, complete our portfolio.
How do you bring together the often very different living environments and expectations of retailers and African smallholders?
A special programme to get to know the market, as well as the work in the field, are our long-established and popular trips to Africa with company representatives and other stakeholders. During the trip, the participants meet with cotton farmers and employees of cotton ginning factories, get to know their work first-hand and have the chance to visit production facilities.
The interest in getting to know the textile chain is great on both sides. On our initiative, a 17-member delegation of African cotton producers therefore travelled to Turkey to learn more about the processing of “their” raw materials in one of the most important textile production markets in the world. In the area of greater Istanbul, they visited an import organisation, a spinning mill and a clothing manufacturer. The trip met with great interest and we are preparing another similar exchange for 2019.
Thank you very much for the interview!
The interviews in the column “Question Time“ embody the opinion of the respective interview partner and do not represent the position of the Bremen Cotton Exchange as neutral, independent institution.