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Cotton farming a promising business

An avid farmer himself, Mr Kalangu reveals one secret ingredient which has helped the school through some rainy days.

“We grow two hectares of cotton as it brings in immediate cash,” said Mr Morris. “It is a good cash crop to rotate with other food crops, and we teach our pupils the value of cultivating cotton for an income,” he explains.

He notes that the money generated is used to meet the school's various needs; sometimes to buy new stationery, sometimes to cultivate other crops like maize which is used to prepare meals at school as well as to cater for visitors on sports days.

Cotton is a very important cash crop, supporting around 300,000 Zambian farmers and roughly 1.5 million dependants indirectly. This natural fibre is one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) most important agricultural exports next to coffee and cocoa. In fact, SSA is the world’s fourth largest cotton exporter, accounting for almost 10 percent of the world’s cotton.

Today, Zambia’s cotton industry contributes US$ 60-70 million to the economy every year. Seed cotton is purchased from Zambian farmers on out-grower contracts and ginned into lint, of which 99 percent is exported to merchants, mostly in Asia.

Dunavant, Cargill and Alliance invest in farmers through extension training and input financing. When farmers are able to increase their yields, all parties benefit. It’s a win-win situation.

A successful cotton yield requires fertile soils, quality inputs, seeds and proper care during germination and growth. To enable farmers to cultivate cotton successfully, some ginning companies pre-finance production inputs and provide training at the start of the planting season.

The Competitive African Cotton Initiative (COMPACI) is one such initiative, which funds the Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA) programme, delivering intensive training in sustainable and environmental farming techniques such as composting to sustain soil fertility.

Cotton produced under these environmentally and socially conscious conditions is sold under the CmiA label – a quality label intended to lead African cotton out of anonymity and make it accessible to the mass market. Increased demand for this label is expected to lead to a better income for farmers in future.

In 2008, Mumbwa a farmer Fanwell Shambosha took a three-year loan from ginning company Dunavant, which he used to buy a tractor and ripper. Within one year he had paid off his loan.  By preparing his land and planting early, he boosted his cotton yield.

More than 30 farmers have since bought their own tractors through similar loans, boosting cotton production within their wider communities and enabling approximately 1,200 farmers to rip their fields using this conservation agriculture technique and improving adoption rates of conservation agriculture among 1,200 farmers.

Both Dunavant and Cargill, with other partners including the German Investment and Development Company (DEG) and Aid by Trade Foundation, have also invested in new school infrastructure in Zambia to encourage better education among future generations. At Myooye Basic School, construction of two new classroom blocks is currently underway, giving teachers and pupils more space in which to learn.   

Maxwell Kabumbwe, a farmer and local pastor near Mumbwa, observes that ginning companies throughout Zambia offer practical farming advice and have a “vision” which encourages farmers to see agriculture as a business.

“Most farmers are not educated and cotton companies should continue to empower farmers with knowledge through education but also with practical help like loans,” he noted.

Cotton prices can be volatile as they are tied to international lint prices where local farmers and ginners have no say over the price at which seed cotton will be bought each year. This is a real risk, and last year’s low price caused many farmers to move away from growing this crop.

Despite the potential for price fluctuations, cotton is a source  for immediate cash income for many farmers. Cotton companies have built a reputation for paying farmers quickly and on time, which has helped foster loyalty to the crop. If grown properly with attention to boosting yields, cotton production can provide a predictable cash-flow for its farmers.

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