Steering Zambia’s cotton from survival to success
The International Cotton Advisory Committee and ITC are working together to double the yields of at least 50,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Zambia by January 2024, which will ultimately affect 300,000+ cotton growers.
The International Trade Centre recognizes that ‘Partnerships4Purpose’ can contribute to impactful projects and sustainable outcomes. To celebrate the teamwork behind these efforts, ITC is proud to highlight game-changing initiatives that are made possible through strong and meaningful collaboration.
Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically affected the cotton sector. In Zambia, in the past years, cotton production has suffered from the effects of droughts on the one hand, and heavy rains on the other hand. The effects of the nationwide pandemic-related lockdown and inefficient agricultural techniques also negatively contributed.
Consequently, the cotton marketing season of 2021 saw a reduction of 30% in yields compared to the previous year and 46% compared to 2019, with almost 155,00 Zambian farmers planting the crop on around 213,000 hectares of land but producing only around 24,250 tons of seed cotton.
The falling price of commodities has also affected cotton, making it more profitable for farmers to plant soya beans which can fetch a higher price. This has also been a key reason for the declining production. And finally, with no operating textile mills in Zambia, the lint is exported, which limits the value addition process of local production.
The unique approach: Adapt to climate and farmer needs through technology
To counter the poor production results and to support the smallholder farmers with climate-smart practices, ITC is partnering with the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) to develop tools and training procedures specific to Zambia’s climate and soil characteristics.
Under the project ‘Strengthening Productive Capabilities and Value Chain Alliances’, jointly funded by the European Union and the Organization of African, Caribbean and the Pacific States, the intervention helps farmers improve their planting techniques by using technological innovations, including the:
- The Soil and Plant Health app. The interactive voice-based app designed which allows users of all levels of literacy to use it, speaks to the growers in Nyanja or Tonga in their local dialect. It uses photos, videos, and animations to help farmers troubleshoot any issues they are having with pests or diseases, as well as guide them through global best practices for raising yields.
- The Virtual Reality Training Programme. One of the most advanced 3D cameras in the world allows farmers to immerse themselves in the experience of walking through any cotton field, anywhere, at any time of the season, to learn best practices.
Another important aspect: The Alliances for Action approach
Not only does tailored technology reflect the project’s success. Through its ITC-specific “Alliances for Action” approach (a participatory partnership model for sustainable agribusiness, from farm to the final product), the project empowers the producers while increasing their productivity and competitiveness – all thanks to working with local partners, including the Cotton Board of Zambia, the Cotton Development Trust, the Cotton Association of Zambia, the Zambia Cotton Ginners Association, and the Handloom Textiles and Technologies Association of Zambia.
The impact: Multiplying best practices
ITC and ICAC are on a mission to double the yields of at least 50,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Zambia by January 2024. There are currently 356 growers – when their training is complete, they will help spread their new knowledge to another 300,000+ cotton growers.To make this happen, ICAC and ITC are conducting several field visits and events organized with local stakeholders to ensure close contact with the beneficiary farmers. A recent field visit focused on several planting techniques such as integrated pest management, information-sharing services, and using virtual reality headsets to help farmers see and better understand some of the production practices to apply these techniques in the field.
Moving forward: More training for better results
ICAC and ITC are aligned in their expertise to support farmers in Zambia for better business capacities and climate smart practices.
As we approach the end of the season, ITC is looking at enhancing the activities with the farmers who already received a first training. The plan is to organize face-to-face sessions, which combine practical techniques and virtual reality as a sustainable learning method.
For the new season, ITC and ICAC will focus on identifying the pre-season training to tackle problems such as soil health and preparation for high-density planting. By increasing the production of cotton in Zambia, and enhancing its attractiveness as an export crop, ITC is also contributing to the realisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area and helping to strengthen these important agricultural value chains.