Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Enhanced partnerships, new technologies to improve cotton production



Not even the blazing sun on a Thursday afternoon could dampen Cotton Development Trust (CDT) director Lwisha Silwimba’s mood.
He had every reason to smile – the impressive turnout by local farmers, especially women and youths, and other stakeholders at this year’s field day in Magoye is a testimony of determination to improve cotton production.

CDT holds field days to showcase technologies for both cotton and other crops of interest to farmers.

This year, the focus was on cotton, whose production has been on the wane the past few seasons due to a number of factors, with the low price being the biggest reason.

Poor cotton seed quality, pests and diseases are the other contributing factors. Other reasons for the decreasing production levels include unreliable seed availability, lack of extension services and unfavorable legislation.

Despite the fall in production, Mr Silwimba and his team at CDT have not given up, especially now that Zambia is running a doubling cotton yields project funded by the European Union.

Director of the Seed Control and Certification Institute Francisco Miti was was informed by Mr Silwimba that cotton is probably the only crop in Zambia cultivated by pesant farmers only.

On the poor quality of cotton seed and low production, Dr Miti heard from Mr Silwimba and Cotton Association of Zambia regional field facilitator – Southern region Ndila Mumba that currently, every ginner has its own training manual and this tends to confuse farmers as they are exposed to more than one ginner.

Mr Silwimba also pointed to peasant farmers planting cotton without testing of the soil to ascertain the acidity or alkalinity and determine the quantity of fertilizer to apply.
Dr Miti, who represented minister of Agriculture Mtolo Phiri at the field day, suggested that CDT should harmonise the training manual for cotton production.

Cotton Board of Zambia executive director Sunduzwayo Banda regretted the tendency by ginners of ending up at supplying inputs to farmers but not offering extension services. He appealed to fertilizer manufacturing companies to deliberately blend it for cotton farmers.
Mr Banda wants fertilizer firms to manufacture the chemical for half a hectare, one lima and two lima to avoid the scenario where the farmers divert it to maize and starve the cotton crop.

He encouraged farmers to begin procuring inputs on their own so that they are able to negotiate the right price with the ginners. At the event dubbed: ”Promoting Sustainable and Regenerative Agricultural Technologies Amidst Climate Change,” Solidaridad Country Manager Sheila Garakara said the theme was adept given the negative effect that climate change has had on crop and livestock production worldwide. Solidaridad is a civil society organization that works to make agricultural supply chains fairer and more sustainable.

In order achieve this, Ms Garakara said her organisation works with small-scale farmers and all participants of the various value chains to encourage sustainable and climate smart agricultural practices. She said Solidaridad facilitates reliable access to finance, creates strong market linkages as well as foster an inclusive and enabling policy environment.

“Cotton productivity in Zambia has unfortunately seen a downward trend in recent years, and unless we make some changes, the yields will continue to drop, resulting in more farmers leaving the sector, and the cycle will continue,” she said.

Ms Garakara said under thr Reclaim Sustainability project, Solaridad’s aim is to address the biggest challenges facing the sector today to make cotton the attractive and profitable commodity it used to be.

Under this project, Solidaridad has supported the establishment of a national multi-stakeholder platform for cotton in Zambia, and members of this platform include (Cotton Board of Zambia), Cotton Association of Zambia, CDT, Zambia Cotton Ginners Association, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Agriculture and other industry players. “We hope that through this platform, all stakeholders will reach amicable and fair solutions to problems faced in cotton production,” Ms Garakara said

She said another area of Solidaridad’s support to the sector is the harmonisation of extension services to farmers.
“The current challenge is that farmers are receiving little or no extension services, and each service provider comes up with their own materials for training and technical assistance, thereby confusing the farmers with different practices. With a harmonised extension service roll-out, extension officers will have a wider reach, and all cotton farmers can adopt the same sustainable and cost-effective practices, or at the very least have the knowledge at hand and be able to make an informed decision,” Ms Garakara said
Solidaridad has also supported CDT in providing awareness to farmers through a top-down extension service approach, establishing a road map on how to roll out climate smart and sustainable practices to cotton farmers and to outline the key advocacy areas in research and development to enhance cotton growing such as good agronomic practices, pesticide management, the improvement of soil fertility, and emphasising the importance of soil health for better productivity.
“As Solidaridad we are promoting various agricultural technologies, some of which involve encouraging farmers to make bio-char out of cotton stalks, which they can then use to nourish their cotton and any other crops they grow. This is currently in the pilot phase. However we are optimistic of the results and once concluded, we plan to scale up,” she said.

To date, Solidaridad has capacited 117 farmers, 60 percent of whom are women in the production of biochar.

“This was done as a Training of Trainers, and these farmers can then transfer the knowledge to their peers. If farmers adopt the production and use of biochar, not only will they sustainably restore their soils, they will incur lower production costs as the use of fertiliser will be significantly reduced,” Ms Garakara said.

She said the application of biochar in the field, combined with other climate smart technologies, promotes sustainable and regenerative agriculture, which would lead to increased yields and therefore reboot the cotton sector. “We have also set up demo plots to show the effects of the different forms of fertilisation and it is from these results that we will make a case for biochar being an alternative to synthetic fertilizer,” Ms Garakara said.

She said Solidaridad is committed to continue working and innovating with its partners to strengthen the cotton value chain in Zambia.
“This sector not only provides livelihoods for farmers, but for processors and manufacturers alike. As a country, we rely on the import of edible oils to meet demand, and our textiles industry, which used to thrive, is now hanging by a thread. By reviving this sector, both these industries can grow, stimulating the emergence of SMEs (Small and medium-sized enterprises), which will create the much needed employment opportunities for our youth,” Ms Garakara said.

Simunji Simunji an agronomist representing United Fertilizers Company Limited said the field day created a good platform for knowledge exchange between farmers and developers of technologies such as seed, farm equipment, fertilizers and agro chemicals. “We therefore expect farmers, especially those based in Southern Province to adopt some of the new technologies of farming during the 2023-2024 growing season,” Dr Simunji said.

He said farmers learn more when invited to agricultural events like field days. “During this period, they are able to physically see the effect of technologies on crop productivity through live demonstrations exhibited,” Dr Simunji said.

He said the participation of Government officials at a field day creates an added advantage to farmers, research institutions and extension services.

“Government would understand the needs of the farmers and how to address them through public, private partnerships. Field days serve as teaching aid for students in agricultural colleges and universities. Students tend to appreciate and apply what they learnt in theory when they are exposed new technologies displayed during the event,” Dr Simunji said

He said the event also creates good platform for business networking. “Companies have an opportunity to meet many and different people who may be willing to purchase the products being exhibited,” Dr Simunji said

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