Cotton farming is important to many households in Benin, representing the primary source of income for almost one fourth of the West African country’s 8.5 million citizens. Unfortunately, the associated use of hazardous pesticides — particularly endosulfan and chlorpyrifos — has caused hundreds of illnesses and dozens of deaths among farmers and rural communities.
Since 1995, the Beninese Organisation for the Promotion of Organic Agriculture (OBEPAB) has been promoting organic cotton production in the country. To date, it has successfully trained more than 3,000 farmers in agroecological techniques of soil and pest management. The turn towards organic cotton has stimulated new cooperation with cattle herders for manure, reduced the costs of conventional farming, improved local food security and empowered poor farmers — and particularly women.
As organic smallholder Evelyn Atekokale of the Glazoué district explains: “Organic cotton has given me more independence as a woman, because I receive a better income, and I am paid immediately after the harvest. And more importantly, my children’s health is no longer at risk.”
One of the successful techniques promoted by OBEPAB is food sprays, artificial or natural supplements that are applied to crop foliage to attract natural enemies of particular pests. In Benin, a yeast-based formula attracts beneficial insects from neighboring food crops that prey on two of the area’s main cotton pests: the bollworm and cotton stainer.
Using this and other agroecological techniques such as crop rotation and soil restoration, many organic farmers are producing an average of 910 kg/ha, compared to 726 kg/ha on conventional farms. Smallholders yield a slightly smaller average, 400-600 kg/ha, but their net income has increased as they now earn 10-20 percent more for their product and no longer spend up to half their income on agrochemicals.