Will sustainability drive West African textiles and garments production?

Jul 2, 2021

Leading designers, manufacturers, and retailers are increasingly making commitments to use more organic cotton as they develop their sustainability strategies. With increased production and vertical integration, Africa has the potential to become a significant hub for ethical and sustainable textile-based development.

Cotton plays a vital role in the African economy, particularly in the sub-Saharan region. It is both a significant export crop as well as an extensively-used fiber in the domestic textile industry.

Organic rules

However, over the last few years, there has been a push to expand genetically-modified (GM) cotton production on the continent without robust research into the long-term effects on farmer livelihood and the environment. Nonprofits like Textile Exchange urge African policymakers to create a suitable business environment for preferred non-GM cotton production to thrive on the continent in response to consumer and industry market demand, given that organic rules prohibit genetic modification.

Time and place are ripe

And for good reason. There are numerous benefits to sourcing GM-free cotton from the continent:

  • Currently, most of Africa is GM-free. This puts African countries at an advantage when it comes to organic production.
  • Africa’s proximity to European and Turkish manufacturing facilities makes it an increasingly-appealing sourcing partner for several reasons, especially considering the lower carbon footprint of transportation to both mills and consumers in those areas.
  • Increasing manufacturing capacity within Africa will provide added value to the organic cotton fiber produced on the continent (rather than it being exported in raw form).
  • Africa’s total population is expected to double from 1.25 billion to 2.4 billion by 2050, and, in some African countries, half the population is already under 25 years of age. Developing organic cotton production and manufacturing in Africa provides crucial potential for the economy by providing local jobs, reducing rural depopulation by removing incentives to emigrate.

Source: Textile Exchange