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Zambia’s ailing cotton industry under rescue

SUN BUSINESS REPORTER writes

@SunZambian                          

THE International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) has kicked off a raft of ‘quick-win’ interventions to salvage Zambia’s ailing cotton industry, according to its executive director Kai Hughes.

Mr Hughes said the interventions will include technology deployment, soil rejuvenation and introduction of seed varieties resilient to changing climatic conditions.

ICAC, whose key objectives included driving development of policies and solutions to strengthen the global cotton and textile industry, which was one of the only seven inter-governmental bodies recognised by the United Nations (UN).

“Production has remained stagnant for more than 40 years, and could well be a doom and gloom story for producers but the identified quick-win interventions forecast to treble the production in the next three years with minimal investment and disruption to the current practices,” said Mr Hughes.

Hughes and Head of Technical Information, Keshav Kranthi recently visited scores of smallholder producers in Zambia and held consultative meetings with government to gain a fuller understanding of the underperforming cotton sector, identify ways to better target the interventions and map out the next steps.

According to ICAC, Zambia’s average national farmer yield of seed cotton was just 800 kg/ha, comparing less favourably with an optimum yield of 1050kg/ha.

 Zambia’s low yield backed the trend of Africa as a whole losing ground with the rest of the world in cotton production.

Overall, the bulk of cotton production in Zambia was done by an estimated 100,000 smallholder farmers who relied mainly on private ginners to finance inputs.

A persistent problem with the arrangement had been the ability to recover the value of the input loans and prevent side-selling, an act of a farmer selling to a buyer who did not provide input credit to them. 

 “As you may know nearly all the cotton production in Zambia is produced by smallholder rural farmers who are negatively impacted by the low yields. But within this dire picture is a promising future by tweaking a few things in what the farmers are doing now,” said Hughes.

Kranthi said the interventions were especially timely, coming when the cotton industry in Zambia and the rest of the region was facing price volatility and rising cost of inputs that threatened the collapse of the sector.

He said his organisation had developed a cotton farm app, easily customised for local conditions and user-friendly for farmers of varying literacy levels had been deployed as early as the 2019/2020 farming season.

This would be done alongside improving the quality of soil and introduction of seed varieties resilient to changing climatic conditions.

 According to him, the app would help farmers implement best practice farming methods, early disease diagnosis, and accurate weather predictions.

“The technology coupled with simple good farming measures such as bio-mulching and intercropping will dramatically lower production costs and increase competitiveness of all Zambian cotton products.

“Meeting with the stakeholders, including farmers and government is critical for us to identify priorities across the sector, and to articulate how we can work together to maximize the cotton sector’s contribution to Zambia’s prosperity,” Kranthi said.

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