Solidaridad convenes Zambian cotton industry stakeholders

Solidaridad Southern Africa and the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) convened a high-level multi-stakeholder conference in Zambia, where all cotton stakeholders in the industry met to find solutions to the status of the sector and develop long-term outcomes for the cotton industry. 

Lusaka, Zambia: A financial contribution and support from the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), in collaboration with the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), Solidaridad and Rabobank Foundation, created the opportunity to expand the ProCotton Programme to Zambia and Tanzania. The cotton sector in many countries faces innumerable challenges with respect to social, economic and environmental conditions. Among the challenges faced by the sector includes the use of large water volumes, consumption of about 11% of the world’s pesticides, high agricultural inputs and unstable climate conditions. Globally cotton provides a source of income to over 30 million smallholder farmers in 65 countries, mostly in developing countries.

The stakeholder meeting formed part of the project with the Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ) to share experiences and lessons learnt from the project with other stakeholders. Among the delegates and organisations in attendance were government officials, local and international non-governmental organisations, Zambian research institutions and the private sector. Solidaridad’s implementing partner, CAZ which is an organisation with more than 200 000 members established in 2005, addressed the concerns of smallholder farmers in the sector at the conference. The objective of CAZ includes negotiating with ginning companies to secure the most favourable cotton pricing and contractual arrangements for smallholders, and providing training services on yield improvement and production through its network of District Farmers’ Associations.

Working together to promote sustainable cotton production by smallholder producers

The role of Solidaridad Southern Africa in Zambia is to work with CAZ to promote sustainable cotton production by smallholder producers. Solidaridad’s strategy is to work on both the supply side, by supporting producers in developing countries on high quality and sustainable production, and on the demand side by creating new market models.

Annie Sugrue, (Former) Managing Director of Solidaridad Southern Africa, told delegates in her presentation that the organisation is keen to see cooperation among all stakeholders to improve the productivity of cotton producers. “We are therefore interested to work with partners who share this goal in order to achieve the best outcomes for cotton producers and to move the sector forward,” says Sugrue.

Zambia ranked in third place in cotton production in Southern Africa, after Zimbabwe and Tanzania. According to Joseph Nkole, chairperson of CAZ, after maize this is the most important cash crop in the country. “As an organisation we are elated about the support we receive from an international organisation like Solidaridad. Through your support and assistance, we are able to elevate the importance of cotton in the country. Our membership is growing annually, especially in areas where we are present, so your support continues to be of great value to us,” he says.

Zambian cotton sector

Dr Watson Mwale, chairperson the Cotton Board of Zambia, highlighted the economic importance of cotton production in the country by pointing out that it supports close to 2 million livelihoods. He further informed the conference that in the last season more than 400 000 farmers produced cotton, which resulted in a production of 250 000 MT – the highest in the country’s cotton history. “This is an achieved, but it must be noted that all the lint is exported, which means export earnings flow out of the country, with only an indirect benefit for Zambia. The way forward is to get farmers more involve upstream, in the value-chain of the sector,” he says.

Zambia currently has nine ginning companies and plans are underway to open the first ginner owned by cotton producers. Ginning companies have often been accused of “exploiting” farmers by paying low prices, which resulted in an intense stand-off between the parties earlier this year.

Bourne Chooka, Executive Director of the Zambian Cotton Ginners Association, dismissed these insinuations and requested delegates not to buy into the “incorrect perception that ginners benefit at the expense of farmers. We are in the same boat.” He further outlined some of the major challenges plaguing the sector, which includes low unit yields or productivity, the high cost (and unreliable supply) of electricity, limited consultation by government and high labour costs. Cotton production is seen as the most important economic cash-crop for smallholders in the country, and Government has pledged its support for the sector to prevent the industry from collapse.

ProCotton programme

The ProCotton programme offers support in six key areas, namely: technical support, access to finances, capacity building, and access to markets, product diversification and moving farmers up the value-chain.

A farmer and member of CAZ, Komani Ng’ambi, believes support from Solidaridad brought notable improvements to the lives of local farmers. “Farmers appreciate the efforts advanced by Solidaridad to improve our yields and productivity through training. Above all the organisations efforts to also link farmers with markets are very relevant, and thus expose us to more growth opportunities.” Ng’ambi farms in Kabwe, outside Lusaka, on 265 hectares of land and he employs 15 permanent workers. He says over the years he has graduated through training from farming on small hectares of land, to his current status. During harvest times, he also employs about 50 seasonal workers.

A needs assessment completed by ProCotton with CAZ revealed that the organisation is concern about the challenges of low prices for seed cotton, high input costs, poor crop management and poor pest control. To address these issues CAZ plans to put more focus their study circle-meetings; expand radio and television outreach programmes and with the assistance of Solidaridad produce more translated training material to help and upskill farmers. The outcomes and recommendations from the conference will be compiled in a report and shared with all participants for an action plan.