Organic cotton helps the soil and the community

    | March 14, 2011

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    Notes to broadcaster

    The Béninese NGO OBEPAB has been promoting organic agriculture for 14 years, and in particular, organic cotton. In organic agriculture, farming inputs are exclusively organic, and thus respect the environment while fighting pests and strengthening soil fertility.

    OBEPAB conducted research projects about the effects of synthetic chemical pesticides on human health. Together with affected communities, these projects identified actions that could reduce the impact of synthetic chemical pesticides on health and environment. These actions include manufacturing natural pesticides and green fertilizers, which are an important part of organic farming, the topic of our script.

    OBEPAB empowers farmers by sharing innovative and cheaper techniques used for organic cotton. The NGO works in five farming zones in Benin: Djidja, Sèto, Aklamkpa, Kandi and Sinendé.

    This script describes a community that decided to experiment with organic cotton. The result was increased income that improved living conditions.

    This script is a mini-drama based on actual interviews with farmers. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.


    Bossou: farmer of about 40 years of age, hard-working

    Dassi: farmer a bit older than Bossou

    Adjagoué: drunkard of the village. He also spreads the village news.

    Chief Biowa: technical advisor, coordinator of the organic cotton program

    Sèna: seven-year-old child, Dassi’s son

    Coordinator: advisor, conventional farming programs

    Tassi: female farmer, Bossou’s niece

    Signature tune of the show

    Host: Can one grow cotton in Benin without using mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides? Can one harvest vegetables from a cotton field and eat them without risking food poisoning due to pesticides? You will have replies to those questions in the following story, which takes place in Sèto, in the Zou Department of central Benin. Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining our program.

    Village atmosphere. Sound of chickens, etc. Sound of approaching footsteps.

    Dassi: Sèna! Why did you come home when it’s not even noon?

    Sèna: Daddy, the teacher dismissed me because my school fees haven’t been paid.

    Dassi: Why? I explained to him a few days ago how my yield plummeted and I received no income.

    Séna: He told me that I could start school again only when you have paid the school fees in full.

    Dassi: Okay. So you can help me sell sodabi (Editor’s note: local gin).

    Short silence, then sound of footsteps coming on mic. One hears a soft sound of glasses clinking and liquid being poured into a glass.

    Bossou: (Coming on mic) Hello Dassi, give me a glass of sodabi. I have so much to worry about. From over one hectare of cotton, I harvested only one hundred-kilogram bag. You at least have found a way to adjust with this shed that you built in front of your house to sell sodabi. And it’s going well. You have a massive flow of customers.

    Dassi: Here’s your sodabi. Your situation is better than mine. I didn’t get one tenth of the yield I was hoping for, even though the rains were good this year. I spent a lot of money on mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides.

    Bossou: The soil becomes less fertile with time; inputs can’t do anything about it. Do you remember when cotton seedlings were tall? But every year they get smaller; and our yields decrease. All the farmers in our group are complaining about poor harvests. (Pause) Dassi, a second glass of sodabi!

    Sound of footsteps coming on mic

    Adjagoué: (Coughing) Hi there. One first glass, to get going.

    Bossou: Hey, Adjagoué, the man who has the respect of all sodabi drinkers! Let’s see if you can drink a good litre of sodabi today, like you did last time.

    Dassi: He can even drink ten litres!

    Adjagoué: (After drinking) Ah! That is some good sodabi, the real stuff. (Pause) A second glass, Dassi!

    Bossou: All right. I’ve had a glass. I’m going to leave.

    Adjagoué: Not so fast. Hey Dassi, a third glass. Bossou, not so fast; I have a story to tell you.

    Bossou: I can’t wait to hear it.

    Adjagoué: Ah, that is good sodabi! Dassi, a fourth glass. (Pause) I’m telling you, I was in Djidja. There is a chief over there who distributes cotton seeds said to be organic. Many farmers have tried it. They say they can grow cotton without buying mineral fertilizer and chemical pesticides.

    Bossou: That’s amazing! Organic cotton!

    Dassi: I knew that after a few glasses of sodabi, some stupidity would come out! I would have been surprised otherwise.

    Bossou: I find his story interesting.

    Dassi: That’s normal, isn’t it? Since you had three glasses, you must be very much in sync with him! In any case, I’m staying away from cotton and just selling sodabi.

    Bossou: I’ve got to go to Djidja. I can’t wait another minute. Adjagoué, why don’t we go together? This may be a good opportunity. Have another glass, Adjagoué, and take me there. I’ll drive.

    Fade out sounds of glasses and bottles from the place where the men are drinking

    Host: So, Bossou and Adjagoué hopped onto the bike and drove to Djidja. Will Bossou’s enthusiasm be rewarded? Keep listening.

    Fade in sound of motorbike horn, and sound of gravel under the wheels of the bike while it slows down.

    Adjagoué: Here is the headquarters of the masters of organic cotton. There is the Chief, Biowa. He’s the one who distributed the cotton seeds.

    Sounds of footsteps on gravel for a few seconds

    Bossou: (Coming on mic) Hello, Chief Biowa. We came to Djidja to get more information about organic cotton. My friend Adjagoué told me about it. But I could hardly believe that someone …

    Biowa: (Cutting him off) … that someone could grow cotton without mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides? Yes, it’s actually possible. Dozens of farmers have done it. And the yield is good. Come on over here, I’ll show you the seeds (sound of footsteps, then sounds of Biowa putting his hands in an open bag of seeds). These are seeds of organic cotton. It is the eve of our new farming campaign; if you’re interested, I can give you three bags plus some compost.

    Bossou: And how do you manage insects and weeds in organic cotton?

    Biowa: I’ll explain it to you. For every hectare of cotton, you need four kilos of maize bran. You add 20 litres of water and you leave the mixture to ferment for 48 hours. Then you add two kilos of sugar and two kilos of neem seeds. Mix it all together and there you go. You are ready to manage your insects and weeds. You’ll just have to spray the liquid on the plant’s leaves, like for the treatment of conventional cotton.

    Adjagoué: Ok. Let me see if I remember it correctly. For the hectare of cotton, you add four kilos of corn bran to 20 litres of water and let it ferment for two days. Then you add two kilos of sugar and two kilos of neem and mix it all together.

    Biowa: Correct. For compost, you can use cow dung and household waste such as grass – you have everything around you to improve the fertility of your field. That’s it for initial advice. The rest of the advice, you will have it after trying our potion.

    Bossou: If some farmers had good results, I don’t see why I shouldn’t try it. Give us the bags of cotton and the compost. Adjagoué, let’s go.

    Fade in sound of motorcycle starting and motorcycle horn. Then cross-fade from sound of motorcycle horn to sound of glasses at Dassi’s stall.

    Bossou: (Coming on mic) We’re back, Dassi. We found a solution to our problem.

    Dassi: A glass of sodabi for each of you?

    Bossou: Not me. I used to drink to forget my worries. But now it’s over; I found a way to get back on my feet. Wow!

    Dassi: Tell me.

    Bossou: Listen, Dassi, with organic farming, you don’t have to buy synthetic chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers. But the harvests are good. I already bought bags of cotton seeds and compost.

    Dassi: You’re making me laugh! Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you should swallow all the potions people try to sell you. The gentleman you saw in Djidja is a charlatan, a real vendor of illusions.

    Bossou: You can’t say a sauce is salty unless you taste it. I will try organic cotton.

    Host: Bossou decided to try organic cotton, but the other farmers of the village group swore to make his life a living hell.

    Fade in of sound of several farmers speaking all at once

    Dassi: Silence, please. Dear farmer friends, thank you for coming. It’s true that I haven’t been growing cotton for two seasons. I’m now selling sodabi. But I won’t let anyone sabotage our group. Bossou must be put into jail.

    Other farming group member: Of course, he also loses his position as president of our group.

    Dassi: And tomorrow I will ask the local coordinator of rural development to have him arrested. If he sows this cotton, we will pull out all the seedlings.

    Sound of farmers speaking loudly, then fade out. Pause, then sound of footsteps coming on mic.

    Coordinator: Bossou, we learned that you are launching a campaign to boycott cotton farming.

    Bossou: (Angry) Coordinator, that’s a lie. I just decided to grow organic cotton.

    Coordinator: All right! That’s not what I was told. Organic cotton is a good thing. You have all my support. I will tell your group members that they have nothing to fear from you.

    Host: Months go by. The other farmers, led by Dassi, bring up all possible threats.  One morning, Bossou found a dozen cotton seedlings have been uprooted. Fortunately, he was able to re-plant them. He goes to his field very early and comes back home late to watch for people who might pull out seedlings. Meanwhile, his niece joined him in growing organic cotton and discovering its benefits.

    Sound of footsteps coming on mic

    Tassi: (Coming on mic) Hello, uncle. I did the organic cotton treatment yesterday; it was really fascinating. And today, I’m going to harvest vegetables in my cotton field.

    Bossou: You see, my little niece, as I was telling you, organic cotton is a revolution. You wouldn’t be able to harvest vegetables in your cotton field today if you used chemical pesticides. With all the itchiness, vertigo and nausea that we experienced after spraying synthetic chemical pesticides, it is a great relief to use pesticides made from natural products. You’re lucky you joined me in growing organic cotton.

    Tassi: Best of all, uncle, insect pests are not causing any problems in my cotton field. I’ve got to go quick. See you tonight.

    Sound of footsteps going off mic

    Host: Months go by. The farmers harvest their cotton. So do Bossou and his niece. Unexpectedly, their cotton is bought by the organization that gave them the organic cotton seeds. Adjagoué goes to Dassi’s and spreads the news.

    Sounds of footsteps coming on mic, then sounds of bottle on glass.

    Dassi: Welcome, Adjagoué. Before I serve you a glass of sodabi, tell me, what is the news from the village?

    Adjagoué: One glass before I speak. (Sound of filling a glass and drinking) Thank you. You know, Bossou harvested his cotton and sold it. He got a good yield and a good price. Now he’s building a new house. His niece Tassi bought a motorcycle and is building a house for her father. Tassi even paid off her child’s school fees.

    Dassi: (Amazed) Tell me I’m dreaming.

    Fade out sounds of men drinking and talking

    Host: One day, Dassi gets sick. Adjagoué calls for Bossou’s help.

    Sound of footsteps coming on mic

    Adjagoué: (Breathless, coming on mic) Bossou, Bossou, you know what? Dassi is confined to bed. He can’t afford medical care, because his yields were poor this year. Nobody can afford to help him. You are his only hope.

    Bossou: I’m proud that I can help him. (Pause as Bossou reaches into his pockets) Here’s some money. Give it to his family so they can buy him the necessary medication.

    Host: A few weeks later, Dassi goes to Bossou’s place to thank him for his help.

    Dassi: (Coming on mic) Hello, Bossou. Thanks for saving my life. It is when you want to sit that you see the usefulness of buttocks. I now realize that you are a great man and that your organic cotton was a good initiative.

    Bossou: No, you don’t have to thank me. The right hand is supposed to clean the left hand and vice versa. We must help each other.

    Dassi: I would like to ask you to help me grow organic cotton.

    Bossou: Of course I will. With organic cotton, you become the master of your field. You spread the compost on the twenty-fifth day, and every time you feel you need to. As for the pesticides made from maize bran and neem seeds, use them every eight days.

    Dassi: It’s very interesting that your family helps you in the field, even treating pests.

    Bossou: Of course. As far as I’m concerned, I profit from the contributions of my four wives and my thirty children. When more people work, there is more income!

    Dassi: I also saw you grow maize, then cotton, and then cashews in your field.

    Bossou: Of course. It is my crop rotation system. First, I grew organic maize, then cotton as a second cycle crop. Finally, I planted cashews in the cotton field. When the cashews become shrubs, you don’t farm the following season. You let the cashew trees grow, and you sow the cotton in another plot. The cashews grow and the soil lies fallow.

    Dassi: Can you do crop rotation with other food crops?

    Bossou: Of course: beans, peanuts, cassava, it’s up to you.

    Dassi: All the other farmers feel like joining you and growing organic cotton. But they’re ashamed because we all fought you in the past.

    Bossou: Tomorrow I’ll invite Chief Biowa to come and assess our needs. He can provide seeds to everyone according to their requirements.

    Host: A few days later, Biowa is in Sèto for a meeting with the farmers.

    Sounds of people talking; then fade out as Biowa speaks.

    Biowa: Hello, dear producers of Sèto!!!

    Together: Hello, Chief Biowa!!

    Biowa: Thank you for choosing organic cotton. These new organic practices are less costly. They maintain the soil and support communities by increasing income and protecting health. The pest and weed control products are safe, so the fields can be treated by anyone with no fear of damage to their health. One thing to remember, though: for those who grew conventional cotton this year, you must let your plot rest for two years before growing organic cotton there.

    A farmer: That’s an excellent deal! If we work hard on our organic plot and if we follow the instructions, I’ll finally be able to fix the hole in the roof my second wife has been telling me about!

    Biowa: And women themselves can take the initiative! Tassi is the perfect example of a hard-working woman. She has been able to do organic cotton, bought a motorcycle and built a house for her father. She has even paid school fees for her child! (Clapping) Tassi, you have to teach your skills to other women here. You must work together as a group and maintain solidarity.

    Tassi: Of course. I thought about this and I will do it!

    Biowa: If we agree, you can even form your own association of producers right now. You must appoint a few inspectors who will verify that people do not cheat by using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The association will be a way to share experiences and knowledge. The decision is yours. At every step, don’t forget to include women, from the election of the board to the training of other male and female farmers.

    Together: We approve!!!

    Biowa: We’ll meet at the end of the season to assess the results. You can come and get the organic seeds tomorrow for the whole group. Thank you and good luck!

    Sounds of cheering and clapping. Fade under the voice of the host, then out.

    Host: Remember the two questions from the beginning: Can one grow cotton in Benin without using mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides? Can one grow vegetables in one’s cotton field and eat them without risking food poisoning due to pesticides? The answers to those questions are yes and yes! Thank you for joining us and see you soon.


    Contributed by: Pacôme Tomètissi

    Reviewed by: Adam Sneyd, Assistant Professor of International Political Economy and Development, University of Guelph, Canada

    Information sources

    Interview on 14 December 2010 with:

    -Simplice Davo Vodounhè, OBEPAB Coordinator

    Interview on 16 December 2010 with:

    • Marceline Gounon, farmer and women’s representative for the Association of Producers of Organic Cotton in Magassa (Sèto)
    • Nicolas Agbigonon, farmer and President of the Association of Producers of Organic Cotton in Magassa (Sèto)
    • Awolèkossa, farmer, Vice-President of the Association
    • Ayinta Lèkodjèwé, Treasurer of the Association
    • Gabriel Agbigonon, Supervisor controller
    • Antoine Agbangbè, Supervisor controller
    • Dieudonné Binonwa, in charge of the OBEPAB Production Center of Organic Farming in Djidja
    • Louis Dadjo, in charge of the OBEPAB Production Center of Organic Farming in Sèto
    • OBEPAB (L’Organisation Béninoise pour la Promotion de l’Agriculture Biologique) homepage :

    Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)