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Cordaid NL
Private Sector Development

Zambia takes over Cordaid initiative for fairer cotton production

‘We would like to take action against the power of multinationals, who force farmers with contracts to sell their cotton at very low prices.’ This question of the Zambian cotton farmers resounded with Cordaid, ten years ago, when we leapt to their defense with training, support and equipment. Nowadays, the farmers run their own cotton production chain and make so much profit that the Zambian government is building three new cotton mills.

Joseph Nkole is national coordinator of the Cotton Association of Zambia, which unites cotton farmers. He has stopped by the Cordaid headquarters to express his gratitude for the support that his organization got from Cordaid between 2006 and 2010. “Cordaid has literally planted a seed in Zambia that has led to new jobs, better livelihoods, better nutrition and making villages come alive again.”

A small seed planted back then has grown into a durable success.

Joseph Nkole. Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ)

“When we started in 2006, Cordaid was the only organization that wanted to support our initiative. And behold: now in 2016, even the government is taking over our methods!” Nkole says.

Cotton contract farming

The Zambian cotton sector has grown quite a bit over the past twenty years. Up until ten years ago, the processing of cotton was mostly in the hands of a few big multinationals, which supplied farmers with seed and equipment and in turn were entitled to buy up all of the cotton harvest. The downside of this was that the price of cotton was fixed. Farmers hardly reaped the benefits of the sizable profits that multinationals made from Zambian cotton on the international markets.

That had to change, the National Farmers’ Union agreed. “Zambia had no textile industry of its own. The big companies sold all our cotton to the Far East. This while at the same time Zambia was importing processed cotton at high prices!” Nkole asserts. “Farmers did not know that with the same product, they could make a lot more profit. Because Zambian cotton is hand-picked, clean and of good quality.”

Farmers did not know that with the same product, they could make a lot more profit.

Joseph Nkole, Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ)

Initiative for fairer cotton production

According to Nkole, Cordaid ‘opened up the eyes of the cotton farmers’. By giving training in management and administration, financial support, and doing a feasibility study, the farmers were able to make headway with the Cotton Association, which advocated the interests of farmers. They bought themselves an industrial cotton ginning machine that separates cotton lint from seed. That’s how the Mumbwa Farmers’ Ginning and Pressing Company Ltd started, at a location about 150 kilometers from capital Lusaka.

Zambia_cotton_2

The farmers no longer sold their cotton harvest to the multinationals but to their own cotton mill, which gave them a fairer price and an opportunity to influence the production process. “The value of the cotton has increased by over 50%,” Nkole says. “From my own harvest, I used to make 7000 kwacha (USD 700). In the 2014-15 season, I earned 57,000 kwacha (USD 5700)!”

New products made from cotton

The higher profit margin is partly due to the recycling of rest products from the cotton mill. “You can press the remaining cotton seed to release oil. From that the farmer families make candles, soap and cooking oil. The cake that remains can be used as animal fodder.”

Our Cotton Association now has 37,000 members and serves the interests of 450,000 small-scale farmers.

Joseph Nkole, Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ)

His association has also taught farmers to weave fabric on a handloom. Now the farmers make tea towels, bath towels, clothes and doormats, to sell on the market for additional income. “We have started cooperatives with women, youth and disabled people, among others, to work together for a better future. We also try to work in an environmentally friendly way.”

Zambia_cotton_1

Small seed, big success

As we speak, the Zambian government is building three new cotton mills. All according to the same principle: farmer cooperatives process their own cotton and the profits flow back into the Zambian economy. “All this because Cordaid decided to help us in 2006,” says Nkole. “A small seed planted back then has grown into a durable success. Our Cotton Association now has 37,000 members and serves the interests of 450,000 small-scale farmers.”

I am about to retire, and I really wanted to make this story known to you.

Joseph Nkole, Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ)

He smiles once again. “I am about to retire, and I really wanted to make this story known to you. The cotton sector has become more equal and sustainable. Thanks to Cordaid I will be able to pass my work on to the next generation with peace of mind!”