For these farmers, cotton is not just another crop. It is a way of life.
Amos Kasadha, a farmer in Kaliro, has managed to pay school fees for his daughter at Gayaza high school while Annet Obulu, a farmer in Iganga recollects the good things from cotton farming – chief of which was supporting her husband build their house.
Cotton farming has meant so much for many families in Uganda. They built houses, took children to school, and lived decent lives.
At a public dialogue in Iganga organized by EPRC with support from Include, farmers and other stakeholders in the sector discussed how best it can be rejuvenated to create employment for all.
The participants noted that years of under-investment and low-value addition have seen the sector struggle. Uganda losses a fortune in exporting raw cotton. The losses are estimated at 2.5 trillion shillings every year, according to clothes manufacturer, Fine Spinners.
Fred Lujjoba, an official at the Cotton Development Organisation, sums cost aptly: “We lose jobs. If we added value, there would be job creation, there would be revenue that would come as a result of selling value-added products like t-shirts, bedsheets, etc.”
He added that “by adding value, the price paid to the farmer would be improved and stabilized.”
The sector still beams with immense opportunities. When the government committed to buying locally made masks last year, Fine Spinners indicated it had increased their employees from 1,500 to 1,800 people in just two months at their Bugolobi factory.
Exporting raw cotton means such employment opportunities for young people and women are missed.
The sector faces several challenges, including the fact that farmers are not adequately supported by the government and ginners have had to come in to offer fertilizers, seeds, and training.
Also, farmers say prices for cotton are announced late, exposing them to middlemen who buy their raw cotton cheaply.
This has seen some farmers give up cotton for other crops. As a sign that ginneries can’t continue to do the heavy lifting, farmers must henceforth buy their own seeds and fertilizers. This may turn more farmers away.
Evans Musiime, an official at Mutuma Commercial Agencies, said ginneries have been extending a helping hand with fertilizers, training, and seeds for a long time. It was time the government joined in.
The EPRC and Include Platform dialogue in Iganga sought to ensure;
- Increased work with farmers – including youth and women – to participate in more valuable activities such as ginning, oil extraction, spinning, weaving, and fabrication.
- Encourage farmers to increase the acreage under cotton in areas with land such as in the eastern part of Uganda.
- Increase cotton yields by expanding farm input programs such as those run by ginneries which provide certified seeds and fertilizers.
For the many lives eking a living from cotton, it is a testimony that the sector is too big to be left to die. The value chain is long and can be a game-changer in job creation.
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