By JAMES KUNDA -
COTTON like any other crop is mostly grown in agriculture intensive countries such as Zambia.
Though the Southern African country heavily depends on maize farming, Zambia grows a significant proportion of cotton which also contributes wealth to the national treasury.
Cotton in Zambia is predominantly grown among four provinces namely; Eastern, Central, Southern and Lusaka, with 500 kilogrammes of the crop being harvested per hectare of land.
In 2013, Zambia harvested 100,000 tonnes of cotton and the country is expected to increase this by more than half as the projected harvest to 2014 is 168,000 tonnes.
The crop output has been projected to increase by more than 60,000 tonnes in 2014 based on seed sold and the hectares of planted land.
It would also better the previous seasons due to the reliable and increased support in input provision and extension services by ginners to the farmers.
Extended support to not only cotton but maize and soya beans growing, including other corporate social responsibility programmes have also contributed to attracting more cotton growers this year.
The cotton industry if well managed has the potential to contribute massive benefits to the country’s economy.
Cotton is an essential material in the manufacturing of fabric which can be sold locally or exported, earning the country foreign exchange.
Zambia itself is a-case-in point as during the days of Mukuba Textiles, Swap Spinning Mills in Ndola and Zambia China Mulungushi Textiles (ZCMT) in Kabwe.
Then, the country enjoyed a fair share of benefits from the manufacturing of garments which were also exported to neighbouring countries.
Today, these industries are defunct and all that foreign countries demand from Zambia is local lint and fuzzy.
Lint is mostly exported to the Far East with China being the biggest market while excess fuzzy is exported within this region with South Africa being the biggest market.
Prices for cotton have not really made any significant improvements due to large reserve stocks and are hovering at around 81cents per pound.
Government has said the ZCMT will be leased in-order for an independent investor to officially start running the firm on large-scale basis.
ZCMT was run under a joint venture between the Governments of Zambia and China but the partnership fell through and the company was closed in 2007.
Before its privatisation, the firm was a fully run Government parastatal under the defunct Industrial Development Corporation (INDECO).
This procedure to lease the ZCMT was nearly concluded by a technical committee which was established by the Zambian Government which owns a 34 per cent stake against China’s 66 per cent holding in the firm.
Feed back is still being awaited from the Chinese Government who have been contacted several times by their Zambian companies on the way forward.
This process should be expedited and the terms and conditions of the lease agreement ought to be favourable so that another investor can take up the running of the company.
Already, an investor from within Africa is said to have made a reasonable offer to take over the company which has the capacity to revamp Zambia’s textile industry through job and wealth creation.
Plans are also underway to attract investors for Mukuba Textiles and Swap Spinning Mills, the two companies which provided jobs in yarning and knitting in Ndola.
Government should also enforce a ban on imported raw materials such as cotton, to help revive Zambia’s dormant textile industry.
The continued importation of cotton has choked the country’s textile industry to the extent that it is currently difficult to revive fabric factories.
This is why it has also been difficult to revive the ZCMT and Mukuba Textiles; the country has become highly dependent on cheap imported garments.
If Zambia had the capacity to produce over 100,000 tonnes of cotton per annum, the country’s textile value chain can be revitalised.
In the event that a trade embargo cannot be fully imposed on cotton, Government should then increase the import duty on the commodity.
The textile industry has the capacity to create many jobs in spinning, yarning, tailoring; all that is required is to empower the local people by improving the value chain by phasing out imports.
A long-term measure can be to put a trade embargo on cheap second hand clothes which today are being sold at very low prices locally.
But, when the textile industry becomes viable again, the country would boast of proudly Zambian made clothes which could be sold locally and abroad.
This will also give competition to other countries in the region like South Africa and Zimbabwe which have thriving textile industries providing clothes for Zambia.
Outlets like Mr Price, Woolworths, Edgars and JET, are all South African brands that have set base in Zambia and selling clothes at exorbitant prices.
South Africa is earning so much revenue from these establishments and of the situation is not checked, it could further choke the Zambian textile industry.