NANCY MWAPE, Lusaka
COTTON is one of the industries in Zambia with the potential to increase rural smallholder incomes, improve household food security for farmers and contribute to the country’s textile industry.
Zambia produces a wide range of products from cotton growing, which includes lint, yarn, poly/cotton yarn, acrylic yarn, cotton fabrics and cotton yarn fabrics.
Government through the commercial, trade and industrial policy of 2009-2014 and the strategy paper on Industrialization and Job Creation launched in 2013, identified the textile and garment as priority sectors for Zambia’s industrialisation and economic development.
The Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry in collaboration with the Regional Integrated Capacity Building Project (RICB), an initiative prepared within the context of the Regional Integration Support Mechanism (RISM) is supporting programs aimed at harnessing the potential that lies in the leather and textile value chains.
RISM is part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Adjustment Facility and draws resources from the 9th European Development Fund.
The Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ) working with Government has trained over 350 cotton farmers in Mumbwa and Lusaka in spinning and weaving from last year to to-date.
About €500,000 has been allocated by the EU to the cotton and textile sector for capacity building, research and procurement of machinery.
CAZ gender and business development head Asselly Mumba said the farmers were trained in weaving and spinning, quality control techniques, product design and development.
Ms Mumba said the development of the cotton value chain in Zambia has the potential to create additional employment, especially for the women and youth.
“We now have farmers that can make fabric from the cotton that they grow. They can spin, weave and dye the fabric which is being sold locally,” she said.
The fabric produced is supplied to the Hotels and Catering Association of and individual customers. The project has also enhanced collaboration with local tailors and designers who make bedspreads, shirts and bags.
Mrs Mumba said farmers were getting double income from the sales of cotton and from the products after value addition such as yarn and woven materials.
Cotton farmers in Katalo village, Mumbwa are some of the growers that Government is assisting to build their capacity in cotton farming, trade and promote value addition.
The farmers have formed a co-operative called Lima Ujane for harmonised training in agriculture.
Co-operative chairperson Anna Silubunga praised CAZ for the support rendered to farmers and helping to raise the price of cotton.
“Under CAZ, we have received training in growing cotton, business accolades and value addition.
In the past, we just grew cotton and sold it in its raw form but now, we can spin, weave and make fabric,” she said.
Mrs Silubunga said inputs are often too expensive for farmers with limited cash income and no access to seasonal credit, hence, the creation of the village banking concept to raise funds for members.
Cotton plants need to be sprayed with pesticides to control pests that include aphids and Lepidoptera species.
The crop is considered to be labour intensive with potential to greatly contribute to employment and wealth creation at all stages of its value chain.
“Despite the high labour costs, a good cotton yield can be profitable for a smallholder household. We engage families during picking of cotton who are paid cash but most times they work for food,” she said.
From the cotton business, farmers in the area are able to send children to school and built better houses.
Co-operative secretary, Ruth Mutombeni said cotton farming has positively transformed the lives of many farmers in the chiefdom.
Farmers are selling their cotton to CAZ at K4 per kilogramme while other companies are offering to buy at K3.80.
Mrs Mutombeni who is also a weaver said majority men in the chiefdom consider spinning and weaving to be a female job.
Jacob Maziba is one of the cotton farmer trained in spinning and weaving who acquired the skill at the time his wife was pregnant and could not join the women folk.
“This job [weaving] has brought development into my family and can create jobs for our youths.
“As men, we should not look down on spinning and weaving as a woman’s job but something that can benefit all of us,” he said.
Mr Maziba said growing cotton has become profitable because at every stage of the value chain, one is able to make profit.
He explained with weaving and spinning added to cotton business, majority farmers who are able to send their children to school, eat well and build better shelter for their families.
And Martha Zulu, a weaver from Lusaka who started weaving in 1984 but stopped when Kafue Textiles closed, commended CAZ for providing a link between farmers and other stakeholders with vested interest in cotton production.
Ms Zulu is one of the weavers who has benefitted from training offered in India and other African countries.
“We have also taught about 64 farmers in Mumbwa on value addition. Through this project, I am able to send my children to school, bought a house and ordered a vehicle which is on its way,” she said.
It is clear that if properly managed, cotton value chain has the potential to significantly contribute farmer income and national the economy.