Enhancing cotton production in South Africa

Cotton production in South Africa is so important the government is positioning the industry as one of the biggest employers in the agricultural sector. First, however, a set of barriers hindering progress must be overcome.

Australian Awards alumnus, Lawrence Malinga, is breaking these barriers and seeing big results, including through his role as Research Entomologist and Project Manager at the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) Institute for Industrial Crops.

‘We’re working to address expensive cotton industry technology, lack of knowledge and expertise, high costs of cotton-picking, low-cost imports and competition from other crops,’ says Lawrence. ‘Results have been substantial, with 15 permanent and nine contract jobs created within one year and 169 farmers already achieving an estimated profit of R1.5 million, through ongoing project support.’

Backed by the knowledge and skills he developed through his Short Course on Increasing the Development Impact of Agricultural Research (2018), Lawrence is involved in managing sustainable rural livelihood projects, including research, design and implementation in the cotton industry. These projects—funded by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR)—are being rolled out in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

Key to success is the multi-stakeholder agreement between the two funding bodies designed around enhancing cotton production of South African smallholder farmers and implementing the government’s mandate to expand employment in the industry. ‘In Australia I learned about farm-level food security and productivity and income stream strategies to create such agreements,’ says Lawrence. ‘They are highly effective.’

Lawrence has contributed to the agreement’s success by supporting cotton smallholder farmers with training, upgrading farm infrastructure, introducing new irrigation systems and providing seeds, herbicides, agrochemicals, implements and mechanisation. He has also helped farmers enter the cotton value chain system to generate profits, which has led more jobs.

With the support of DRDLR and another important partner, Cotton South Africa, Lawrence has trained 51 out of 169 cotton farmers on pest management, financial planning and management. He has also trained the smallholder farmers on establishing a cotton plant and cotton harvesting. Support resulted in 975 hectares of land planted with cotton seeds and six tractors, a truck, trailer and fencing material being provided between 2015 and 2018.

Lawrence’s support of smallholder cotton farmers is making a positive impact in a sector that continues to play a significant role in the economic empowerment of the rural communities in the three provinces, with about 50 per cent of the cotton used by spinners in South Africa and the balance imported.

‘It’s rewarding to see these projects contributing to the improved livelihood of the farmers through cotton as a profitable cash crop,’ says Lawrence.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Malinga

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