With his hoe slung over his shoulder, Pierre Bangou strolls around his plot of organic cotton. This 39-year-old farmer lives in Komadougou, a village in the eastern part of Burkina Faso, West Africa. As he walks, he removes the few weeds still growing at the base of the cotton plants. His 6-year-old daughter keeps him company, enjoying playing with the sand that has been dampened by the fine morning August rain. After making a few circuits, Pierre comes back with a satisfied expression. “If the rains carry on, we should have a really good season”, he says confidently.

Pierre has never grown ordinary cotton. He began cultivating this type of crop as part of the programme to promote organic cotton launched in 2004 by UNPCB, the cotton producers’ association of Burkina Faso, together with Swiss NGO, Helvetas. “I opted to produce organic cotton because this type of cultivation does not have harmful effects on the health of the farmer”, he explains. “Growing organic crops also allows you to restore and maintain soil fertility in a sustainable manner. As a result, there is less impact on the environment.”

To help him get started, ‘organic’ technical staff from the programme based in the regional capital of Fada visited to trace the history of his plot and establish what kind of crops had been grown on it during the previous 3 years. They wanted to know if he had used any mineral fertiliser or if the land had been treated with chemical pesticides. To qualify for organic cultivation, a farmer’s land must not have received either of these additives. After passing this test Pierre was granted approval to produce organic cotton and was advised to use organic matter to fertilise his plot. “According to organic cultivation standards, each hectare requires 5 to 6 t of organic matter”, explains technician Adjima Thiombiano.

To supply this requirement, Pierre dug two compost ditches, using organic matter mixed with manure from his livestock to fertlise his field. To ward of pest attacks, he uses a solution based on neem seeds (Azadirachta indica). It takes 40 l of biopesticide, or 4 kg of neem seed, to treat each hectare. The programme supplies organic inputs, the cost of which the farmer pays back when he sells his cotton.

With only his wife to help him, Pierre Bangou farms 2 ha of organic cotton, 3.5 ha of organic sorghum and 1.5 ha of millet (Panicum miliaceum). His cotton produces an average yield of 1 t/ha, higher than the average yield for ordinary cotton.

For his organic cotton, whose price is not fixed by world prices, he receives about 30% more than he would for ordinary cotton. For Pierre, the results speak for themselves. “I have begun building a house on the land where we live and I have bought two draught oxen”, he says happily. “My family’s living standards have also improved, especially our diet.”

The growing number of farmers taking up organic production in the area is proof of the interest producers are taking in the programme. While in 2005/2006 there were just 192 producers, the Fada area has nearly 700 organic farmers registered for the current season, more than half of whom are women.

However, organic cotton is a demanding crop. “The main constraint to growing organic cotton lies in making the compost. It requires a great deal of labour and huge quantities of water. Our village does not have any form of reservoir. It is even more difficult in the dry season”, explains Pierre Bangou. Nevertheless, thanks to his courage and determination, this farmer is managing to overcome the difficulties. This season, Pierre hopes to harvest at least 2 t of organic cotton from his land.

Inoussa Maïga

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