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Cotton industry under threat: 90 job losses loom at ginnery

image CLOSURE: Inside the cotton ginnery at Big Bend.

THOUGH agriculture remains a backbone of the country’s economy, the cotton industry is threatened by two critical factors.

First, there is the imminent closure of the cotton ginnery stationed at Big Bend, which is under the guardianship of the Swaziland Cotton Board. If the ginnery stops operating, about 90 people will lose jobs and this will not only affect the sector but their families and government’s revenue.

Also, the industry is threatened by the fact that genetically modified cotton which is now preferred by farmers around the globe is not allowed in the country.

Swaziland Cotton Board Chief Executive Officer Daniel Khumalo said they were confronted by a deficit in cotton production adding this year, the cotton ginnery was opened at a risk as it only received 864 metric tonnes of cotton from farmers which was a quarter of its throughput.

He said as such, the ginnery operated at a loss. 

Khumalo explained that usually, the ginnery was open if they were satisfied with a respective season’s production. 

“The current reduction in production means the ginnery may not open next season. Farmers have stopped planting cotton because they believe that genetically modified cotton is the way to go now. This season only 1997 farmers planted cotton out of the usual 3 000 farmers, with most waiting for GMO cotton. The ginnery only received 864 metric which was a quarter of its throughput,” he noted.

Meanwhile, farmers interviewed during a farmers meeting held in Big Bend ginnery mentioned that they had been waiting for the GMO cotton for long, but all in vain. 

The farmers mentioned that the current cotton variety was labour intensive and required manual weeding, when GMO cotton could only be sprayed by round up for weed control.

Farmers further highlighted that GMO cotton required minimal sprays compared to the current variety.  

Responding to the comments the CEO, agreed that the ginnery might not operate next season due to that amount of cotton received from farmers.

He said the Board had already made an application to the Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA) so as to allow farmers to grow GMO cotton. The application was still being processed. 

The CEO noted that the current Biosafety Act of 2012 was the main hindrance to the introduction of GMO crops in Swaziland. 

Khumalo said Swaziland needed to review this legislation if the country is interested on benefiting from modern biotechnology. 

Khumalo said Swaziland might find its self with no planting seed in the next three years since all commercial seed were imported from South Africa, who was already planting GMO seed. 

…Ginnery’s E8 million shortfall to farmers

COTTON farmers are also expected to join the rest of the farmers in the country and start planting.

Swaziland Cotton Board Chief Executive Officer Daniel Khumalo said though the cotton industry was under threat, the official planting date for the new season was the beginning of next month.

He said already, farmers had started sourcing inputs.

Khumalo said cotton was the second major cash crop after sugarcane in Swaziland. 

“It is the main source of income for small scale famers, especially those in drought prone areas.

“The cotton industry is currently under performing   yet the cotton industry used to be a source of livelihood 40 000 Swazis. Farmers grow cotton to pay school fees, build houses, buy food and clothes,” he said.

He said the area planted in the 2013/2014 season, covered 2 800 hectares adding that as

drought was taking its toll to most crops, cotton was not spared.

The CEO said about 824 metric tonnes of cotton were produced compared to the 1 818 metric tonnes from the previous season. 

“Most farmers did not harvest anything due drought, while some could not plant due to

delayed rainfall, other were waiting for genetically modified cotton. 

The cotton ginnery released a total of E6 million to farmers compared to E14 million from the previous season.

Ginnery operation commences on May 30, 2015 and it operates for three months. About 10 entrepreneurs were employed to transport cotton from various areas to the cotton ginnery,” he said.

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