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Uganda’s annual cotton output falling

By Vision Reporter

Added 15th February 2008 03:00 AM

THE Government’s ambition to extend cotton production to over one million bales annually is fast becoming a wild goose chase. Over the last number of years, the annual output has drastically decreased and is expected to fall further this year.

THE Government’s ambition to extend cotton production to over one million bales annually is fast becoming a wild goose chase. Over the last number of years, the annual output has drastically decreased and is expected to fall further this year.

By Arthur Baguma

THE Government’s ambition to extend cotton production to over one million bales annually is fast becoming a wild goose chase. Over the last number of years, the annual output has drastically decreased and is expected to fall further this year.

The Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) accuses ginners of forcing farmers into organic cotton growing without adequately preparing them.

The ginners, on the other hand, accuse CDO of failing to provide farmers with high yielding cotton varieties and giving then insufficient quantities of cotton seeds for planting.

Charles Okuru, a cotton farmer in Patang, Kitgum district, waited for a month before he could get cotton seeds.
Ideally, planting is supposed to start in April but he got the seeds in May 2007, a month late. CDO supplies the cotton seed through ginners.

“ Even after planting, most of the seeds did not germinate,” he laments.
Okuru is just one of the many farmers suffering silently as ginners and CDO lock horns.

As a result, last season registered one of the worst harvests and it is expected that this year the harvest will be as low as 60,000 bales, only half last year’s harvest.

Last month, President Yoweri Museveni wrote to the prime minister, directing him to resolve the cotton war immediately.
According to the President’s letter, the Government is interested in adding value to Uganda’s cotton, increasing production to one million bales, doing what the market wants, attracting as well as retaining as many ginners, spinners and weavers as possible.

“You are ginners; I hope you will soon be spinners and weavers. You will help us to earn more forex and create more jobs for our people. Therefore, I cannot allow anybody to frustrate you,” the letter says.

The letter followed the discontinuation of the activities of Dunavant, a ginning company, from the original organic catchment areas in Lira and Apac districts.

Correspondences between the agriculture ministry, CDO and ginners, shows that there is bad blood among these key stakeholders in the cotton industry. Ginners accuse CDO of neglecting its role of providing farmers with good quality cotton seeds.

According to the Association of Cotton Ginners and exporters, the cotton seed was last improved in 2002 and it’s the same seed that CDO has been distributing, despite the fact that cotton seed is improved almost every year in other parts of the world.

The ginners claim that they have no control over the cotton seed that is distributed to farmers and cannot do much about the quality of cotton seed farmers get.

“We are not allowed to bring in seed or even control it. Cotton seed is 100% controlled by CDO. The government gives sh2.5b every year for seed improvement. Ginners also contribute about sh50 per kilo to CDO.

“CDO also charges us money to run their operations. why don’t they address the quality of seeds given to farmers?” Ravi Patel the Director of Dunavant one of the firms operating in Northern Uganda wonders. His views are echoed by Patrick Oryang, the secretary of the Uganda Ginners Association.

Oryang says the seeds distributed by CDO had the lowest germination rate ever experienced in the region.

The association says for every five seeds planted last year, only two germinated, a less than 40% germination rate. But CDO maintains that their seeds germinate at a rate of 75-95%.

CDO argues that the current problem is a result of a switch to organic farming, among cotton companies operating in the north and West Nile, which is threatening to reduce output by half. The firms are Dunanvant, Twin Brothers, South Base, Bo-Weevil, Copcot and Olam. The companies operate in Lira, Oyam, Pader, Kitgum, Nebbi and Kasese districts. Although organic cotton fetches double the price of conventional cotton, says CDO.

More research has to be done on the method before it is practiced widely.
Neither CDO nor the Government have okayed the issue of organic cotton growing, according to Jolly Sabune, the director of CDO.

“Investors are holding the Government at ransom; they are carrying out organic farming without the approval of the Government and without first preparing the farmers. With organic farming, you need a minimum of one year to train farmers before you start off,” she says.

She argues that the decision by the ginners to push for only organic cotton, against the advice of CDO, made the crop vulnerable to damage by pests, leading to lower yields. “We are telling farmers not to grow organic cotton. Growing organic cotton must be done properly after preparing farmers for it so that yield loss is mitigated.”

In organic farming, a farmer does not use synthetic fertilisers or pesticides.
Organically produced crops are on high demand especially in developed countries, because they are safer for human health.

But Sabune warns that the country could end up not planting cotton this year if the ginners continue insisting on organic cotton without preparing the farmers well.

However, the ginners have denied claims that they forced farmers into organic cotton growing through signing dubious contracts. The ginners claim that the farmers voluntarily took up organic farming.

The association says the agreements are part of the international process followed in all organic crop growing areas which export the crop.

“Organic certification is related to land on which the crop is grown. What is certified as organic is the land not the crop, and this is an international mode used in all parts of the world where organic farming is carried out,” says Patel.

He says any crop that you grow on that land qualifies as an organic crop. Even if you grow beans, sunflower, they will be organic.

“This year we have certified our farmers not for only organic cotton but all other crops. Our aim is to improve the productivity of the farmers and make them more sustainable by helping market the produce.”

The ginners insist that CDO is only trying to be diversionary by blaming organic farming for the decline in cotton yield.
They say there is no way CDO can increase cotton production by reducing the amount of seeds given to farmers.

In Lango sub-region, for instance, the amount of cotton seed distributed for planting reduced from 780 tonnes two seasons ago to 360 tonnes in the last season.

In a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, dated May 22, 2007, ginners and farmers in the region said they anticipated a drop in the cotton output following the reduction in cotton seed distribution by more than 50%.

“It is a known fact that the seed variety currently planted was developed around 2002 and since then no effort has ever been made to introduce new varieties, that should be introduced every two years. “We believe this in a way also affected cotton germination and productivity hence the poor yields.”

Naranbra, the director of Kumi Cotton Ginnery in Teso region, says the Government should intervene and put on the market a viable cotton seed.
He argues that in India they use a new variety called BTC, which has a yield of 1,000-1,500 kilos per acre.

Comparatively, the variety grown in Uganda yields 150-200 kilogrammes per acre. But CDO says it is not responsible for cotton breeding.
“The organisation’s responsibility is to ensure that good seed is procured, treated and sent to the farmers.

Research and improvement of the seed is the role of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO),” says Sabune. “When farmers complain, we take back the information to NARO and request them to improve the seed.”

Sabune says this year they expect NARO to release another variety of cotton, which is better than the one currently being used. She says multiplying the seed takes time and farmers might start getting the seeds of this new variety earliest in 2010. She adds that CDO does not have resources, both human and financial, to effectively carry out its mandate.

As a result, since 2002, CDO says it contracted all the ginners to deliver the seed to farmers and help them in maintenance and proper cultivation of the crop.

How the ginners distribute the seed, or how long they take to deliver it is not the work of CDO. “We are a small organisation, which is financially constrained. We contract most of the services to the private sector,” she says.

Facts about Uganda cotton

By Ibrahim Kasita

THE cotton sector last year contributed about sh56b to the national economy. Farmers have gained income as ginners (cotton buying firms) buy a kilogramme for between sh600 and sh700.

The cash crop, which was introduced in 1903 during the British colonial period, is the largest single crop grown in 21 districts.

It thrives in the warm climate of the northern region, West Nile and southwestern Uganda.

Since its introduction, the highest amount of cotton produced was 452,000 bales (One bale is equal to 185 kilogrammes).
The plant, seeds and the actual cotton are all useful. Lint (white cotton) is used to make clothes, clinical cotton and blankets.

The seeds can be can crushed to produce cooking oil, animal feeds, fertilisers and soap. Cotton stalks can be used to make paper and cardboard.
The linters (remains after the cotton has been removed) can also be used to make gun powder.

Recent discoveries have found that the cotton stems mixed with other chemicals can produce charcoal that can be used as fuel in rural areas, protecting the environment.

This year’s potential production capacity is expected to be about 60,000 bales because of the poor harvest and marketing rows.

Uganda’s annual cotton output falling

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