Environmental Issues

The main environmental impact associated with cotton production is the use that is made of pesticides and water. The cotton industry is actively working on measures to reduce the use of pesticides and use is following a downward trend. Use of pesticides for cotton has actually been reduced from 11 % of all sales in 1988 to 6.2 % of all sales in 2009.

Nevertheless farmers who do the spraying, as well as the environment are at risk from the toxic effects of spraying pesticides/insecticides and efforts for the safe use of crop chemicals in cotton must at all times be put in place.

It is also observed that the levels of pesticides use in Sub-Saharan Africa have yet to reach the same levels observed in other parts of the world and that with adequate measures related to the safe use of crop chemicals (through mainstreaming best practices) the risks to the farmers, their families and the environment can be managed in a responsible manner.

Since Zambian cotton is essentially produced under rain-fed conditions environmental concerns relate to use of scarce water resources for irrigated cotton production do not apply to Zambia.

Any pesticides used in Zambia must be registered by the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ), which may, or not, register the pesticide based on toxicity, persistence, carcinogenic, shelf-life and safety data.

Recently, a number of cotton farmers, amongst the CAZ membership, were engaged in the production of organic cotton. Development of organic cotton production was hampered by the following factors:

•Organic cotton produced in conventional cotton producing areas was difficult to separate from standard cotton produced in the same area. Furthermore, to gain organic cotton status it must be grown on land accredited as free from pesticide contamination.

•Due to the collapse in the world price of organic cotton caused by major recent increases in its production in Asia, ginning companies have little incentive to pay farmers a premium price.

The Kaoma district organic cotton initiative failed due to poor yields, i.e., loss of circa 80% output,and failure to secure premium prices.

Performance of the cotton sub-sector

•After maize, cotton is the most important smallholder crop produced in Zambia

•Due to maize subsidies, farmers tend to plant maize first and allocate farm labour to tend the crop. Often cotton seed planting is late and inadequate labour devoted to weeding, spraying and timely harvesting of cotton crop

•Cotton is the main cash crop produced by between 200,000 and 440,000 smallholder farmers situated in the Eastern, Central and Southern Provinces

•Cotton provides valuable cash income at a crucial time in the season (before the maize harvest). This enables many small-scale farmers to overcome food security constraints as well as making available cash income for farm investments

•During 2011/12 cotton season 430,000 farmers grew cotton, supporting the livelihoods of circa 3.5million rural Zambians (25% national population of around 13.8 million)

•In 2012/13 cotton season, due to frustration over previous season’s price about 180,000 of these farmers decided not to plant cotton seed (ginner estimates- CBZ data) 

•Seed cotton yield at 418-655kg per hectare (dependent on individual out-grower scheme -CBZ data 2011/12 season) is in lowest quartile for Africa and 45th in ICAC’s top 50 cotton growing countries

•Zambian seed cotton yield is circa 30% world average (based on ICAC statistics)

•Although donor finance has supported ginner out-grower schemes in the past decade there was no significant improvement in farmers’ yields

•Zambia has a reputation for producing good specification cotton lint and is the top quartile of African producers

•Up until 3 seasons ago, sub-sector relied on old varieties of pre-basic seed

•Seed cotton price paid to farmers is either the lowest, or amongst the lowest, in Africa dependent on the marketing season


Key challenges, issues and needs

•Zambian farmers earn low return for their labour due to a combination of poor yields and low seed cotton price

•GRZ maize subsidies (FISP and FRA) adversely affects other farming activities like cotton 

•Few cotton farmers are self-financing with over 95% farmers buying inputs on credit from ginning companies out-grower schemes binding them contractually to sell their seed cotton to the ginners

•Weak bargaining position of cotton farmers

•Lack of self-financing, independent farmers able to access inputs, etc. Through ZNFU’s LIMA credit facility and/or supported by FISP farmers will be able to access independent finance   

•Limited availability of cotton seed available on open market with most multiplication programmes tied to out-grower schemes only

•Zambia is only one of two African countries without a clear pricing mechanism/negotiating platform

•Major fluctuations in international prices of cotton lint coupled with some fluctuation in the ZMK/US$ exchange rate result in local farmer price fluctuations. In practice ginning companies offload price fluctuations and exchange risks onto the farmers through universal price setting

•Ginning companies dictate prices. Over past seasons ginners have ignored CAZ/farmer and GRZ representations and refused to enter into open price negotiations based on a transparent seed cotton pricing model

•The Ginning companies/Ginner Association sets seed cotton prices with little variation between prices paid by each ginner

•Wide variation in the cost of input packages sold to farmers on credit with some ginners exploiting their position.

•Major swings in number of farmers growing cotton. Many farmers take advantage of inputs available on credit, or leave the sector when frustrated by low returns/perception that they receive unfair share of profits

•Concentration of donor financing to 2 leading ginners distorts market competitiveness 

•Pirate buying of seed cotton by ginners weakens sanctity of contracts

•Limited capacity of CAZ with gender imbalance

•Levy collected by ginners, but paid by farmers out of seed cotton charge. Whereas Cotton Act 2005 stipulates that levy be a charge on cotton lint, i.e., paid by ginners

•CAZ has low sustainability ratio and is currently over dependent on donor assistance. Circa 5-7% collected levy is allocated to CAZ

•Few farmers pay CAZ membership fees as they cannot see tangible benefits that membership will provide, most notably a fairer market price.

•Cotton Act 2005 places too great an emphasis on protecting the ginner and not the farmers’ rights

•Farmers lack confidence in Cotton Board of Zambia to support and represent their needs. To protect Zambia’s international reputation as a quality cotton lint supplier it is necessary to implement and enforce national grading standards for seed cotton and cotton lint

•Marginalisation of women in the cotton sector