Cotton offers new income sources for African farmers
There's more to cotton than just the fibre. Many parts of the plant that are usually thrown away can be transformed into goods such as fertilizer and fuel that can help African farmers improve their livelihoods, according to a new International Trade Centre (ITC) report examining the uses of cotton by-products.
Adding value to products derived from the cotton plant and seeds 'can contribute meaningfully to reducing poverty, creating jobs and increasing economic growth in Africa', says Beyond the Fibre: Capturing cotton's full value in Africa. The report stems from ITC's joint cotton by-products initiative with the WTO and UNCTAD, which responds to a request from the Cotton Four (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali).
Cottonseed oil, oilcakes, stalks and meal can represent up to 30% of the value of seed cotton, the paper says. Yet oil and cakes haven't been fully exploited, despite a potential for 400,000 tons of oil and 500,000 tons of protein - vital for the growing livestock industry. West Africa could generate an estimated $123 million just from cotton stalks, which can be used for compost or transformed into briquettes and pellets and used to generate power.
The challenge, however, is getting word out about the benefits of developing a more systematic way to exploit the untapped potential of cotton derivatives. 'Cotton stakeholders in Africa - from farmers to ginners to regulatory bodies - lack vital information on ways to add value to parts of the cotton plant other than the fibre,' explains ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton.
As a result, African countries lag behind other nations when it comes to technology to add value to by-products. They also lack the data they need to assess the viability of investing in cotton derivatives, the report says, and they are held back by policies that fail to promote the development of cotton.
The report addresses these challenges by exploring the cotton industry across Africa, detailing the potential of by-products and offering recommendations on how to capture additional value from them.
Developing cotton by-product value chains
'There are activities that can raise value, boost awareness among private and public stakeholders, and increase transparency in the cotton sector,' says Ms. Coke-Hamilton. 'Financial and technical assistance from governments or donors is needed to promote this value addition. Support for businesses that process by-products is essential, along with building capacity to set up industry clusters and encourage South-South cooperation.'
Most cotton-producing African countries have industries that process cottonseed into cooking oil and oilcakes used for livestock feed. Cottonseed oil and cake represent almost a third of the total value of seed cotton in sub-Saharan Africa, and demand for both is growing - pushing up cottonseed prices.
These two by-products have other uses as well, the report says. Cottonseed oil can also be used in cosmetics, nitroglycerine and roofing products, while cakes (as well as meal) is used as fertilizer and fish bait.
And cotton stalks - the only by-product of cotton cultivation besides cottonseeds - can be used as a source of fuel, a raw material for the manufacture of particle boards or the preparation of pulp and paper, and even as a substrate for growing edible mushrooms. Cotton cultivation generates 2-3 tons of stalks per hectare, but farmers usually burn them or cut them down to ground level and shred them.