CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
WHEN Muchinda Silubunga of Mumbwa ventured into cotton growing about six years ago, she was optimistic of earning good money after selling her harvest.
Like other smallholder farmers in Mumbwa who grow cotton, she soon realised that she was having a raw deal because the fluctuating price of the cash crop on the market was below what she had expected.
But things are changing for the better.
The Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ) has come to aid of smallholder farmers through the African Cotton Promotion and Value Addition Project funded by the European Union (EDF 10) and the International Trade Centre (ITC).
CAZ has introduced handlooms and other low-cost fabric transformation technologies like spinning wheels that will enable smallholder farmers to add value to their produce.
“We were growing cotton, but we didn’t know that you can make clothes from cotton,” Ms Silubunga, a 54-year-old mother of two, says.
“Before, we started growing cotton; we didn’t know anything like adding value to our cotton.”
Ms Silubunga and other members of Mabele Information Centre, one of the cooperatives in Mumbwa, have been trained to use handlooms and spinning wheels to add value to their cotton.
“We have been trained on how to spin wool into yarn and to use the spinning wheel and spindles,” she says.
The CAZ project initially started as a pilot, targeting farmers who grow cotton in Mabele and Nekeseke area in Mumbwa district.
The ITC and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have facilitated interventions and activities that have built capacity of CAZ and exposed members to the entire value chain.
“ITC and COMESA have provided funding for training, exchange visits, manufacturing as well as linked CAZ to international markets,” CAS chairman Christopher Mweetwa says.
CAZ has partnered with Kabwe Institute of Technology (KIT) in making handlooms and spinning wheels.
Mr Mweetwa says facilitating value addition is a form of revolution and liberation for cotton farmers.
CAZ director for outreach and membership services Bertha Bwalya says the project started in 2015, and is aimed at training women in cotton value addition.
“When we started, we had 40 women and a few men. So far we have more than 200 farmers from Mabele and Nekeseke in Mumbwa,” Ms Bwalya says.
Farmers have been taught to spin lint into yarn using spinning wheels and weave fabric using drip spindle.
“The spinning wheel does not require electricity or solar,” she says. “It’s done manually.”
The cotton farmers make fabric and other products like doormats, kittens and scarves.
Ms Bwalya says through CAZ, the fabric is sold at local trade fairs and international shows.
Handlooms were introduced in Zambia in the early 1990s by some institutions among them TEVET which offered courses to learners with intellectual challenges.
The units operated as projects but ceased operations in 2000. They were supported by the Finish International Development Agency.
Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo says the introduction of handlooms and other low-cost value addition technologies is expected empower smallholder farmers.
Professor Luo recently handed over 14 handlooms and 200 spinning wheels to CAZ which KIT made at the cost of US$20, 000.
“Apart from empowering the targeted beneficiaries, the handloom project is aimed at stimulating artisanal textile production and competitiveness in Zambia,” Prof Luo said.
By processing cotton into yarn, Professor Luo says, farmers are able to produce hand-woven products, hence promoting linkages between local farmers, spinners and weavers.
Prof Luo says the handlooms sector has extreme potential to generate employment opportunities and increase income, especially for women and young people in rural areas.
“Here is a technology that will help you (women and young people) make more money than selling tomatoes on the streets,” she said.
However, as Zambia is embracing handlooms, it is important to design fabric that is specific to the local environment as the case is in some countries in West Africa.
Ghana, where this technology is readily available, is one country known for production of quality fabric weaved using handlooms.
“When I saw it (handlooms) in Ghana, I found it in the rural area of Ghana,” Prof Luo recalled.
“This technology is something that is durable and can change the lives of our people.”
Prof Luo commended CAZ and KIT for partnering in promoting value addition to cotton.
KIT has been chosen to replicate the first handlooms and spinning wheels in the country.
Titus Ikowa, the board chairman of KIT, says his institution is also a centre of excellence for courses in hand weaving and textiles.
“The addition of value to cotton by farmers will not only generate income at personal level but we enhance the country’s economy as well as employment,” Mr Ikowa says.
He says KIT will do its best to ensure the project achieves its intended purpose.
Another member of Mabele Information Centre is Rosemary Dube and she is happy to have acquired new skills in adding value to cotton.
Through selling raw cotton to private buyers, Ms Dube, a mother of nine, was not seeing the benefits of growing cotton.
Now Ms Dube appreciates the value of growing cotton.
“This project is helping us because I make profit from what I make. I am able to send my five grandchildren to school,” Ms Dube, a widow who also grows maize and soya beans, says.
“The challenge that we have been facing is poor prices of cotton but this project of CAZ is good because we now able to add value to our cotton.”
Apart from EU and COMESA, the governments of India, France and Ethiopia are also supporting the project.
CAZ is also expanding the project to Southern and Eastern provinces where there are some smallholder farmers who grow cotton.