National and international Cotton experts attending the Cotton by-product workshop in South Africa.
National and international Cotton experts attending the Cotton by-product workshop in South Africa.

Cotton by-products hold valuable opportunities for farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa. Developing these opportunities could make a huge contribution towards diversifying the subcontinents’ economies.

This was the take-away message from a workshop recently hosted in Johannesburg by Cotton SA, a body that represents all role-players in the South African cotton industry, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The two-day workshop drew 70 attendees, of which 50 were from outside of Mzansi. It was centred around the project Promoting cotton by-products in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is managed by UNCTAD, in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Joseph Kempen, Loskop Cotton Gin CEO (SA), Dr Lawrence Owoeye Senior Research Manager, IIC-ARC (SA) and Mr. Kai Hughes, Executive Director International Cotton Advisory Committee (USA).
Joseph Kempen, Loskop Cotton Gin CEO (SA), Dr Lawrence Owoeye, Senior Research Manager: IIC-ARC (SA), and Mr. Kai Hughes, Executive Director International Cotton Advisory Committee (USA).

According to Mr. Stephen Karingi, UNECA Director of Regional Integration and Trade, the project is aligned with regional and global efforts to support Africa’s economic diversification through value addition. “The importance of the cotton sector to African economies cannot be overemphasised, and it includes the value chain from seed cotton to textiles and other by-products such as cottonseed oil and seedcake.”

The three-year programme spans across four African countries namely Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda. These countries are also known as the ‘Cotton-4’.

By-products refers to the waste of cotton production, which is recycled into another product. For instance, fuel briquettes are made from cotton stalks and absorbent cotton from waste fibres.

“Cotton farming is a high input cost crop and therefore every possible opportunity to increase the value of cotton must be investigated at farm level.” – Hennie Bruwer, Cotton SA CEO

He added, “Through value addition of cotton by-products such as briquettes and pellets made from cotton stalks, hygienic cotton products such as absorbent cotton, and utilizing cottonseed oil, new opportunities can be created that can contribute to the profitability of cotton and job creation at farm level.”

Amid the discussion, experts at the workshop reflected on the potential for cotton by-products and how it would contribute to sustainable development in African cotton-producing countries. The round table discussions focused on high level topics such as national level challenges, government policies, knowledge and technology required for manufacturing identified cotton by-products. Delegates from the “Cotton-4” also shared some of the lessons they have learnt.

“There was an openness between the parties involved. This openness is very powerful to grow the industry going forwards,” says Yanchun Zhang, chief of UNCTAD’s commodities branch.

Cotton SA's chief executive officer Hennie Bruwer.
Cotton SA’s chief executive officer Hennie Bruwer.

As the three-year programme comes to an end, there are two ways in which the future can be approached, says Kris Terauds UNCTAD’s economic affairs officer.

“The first is, to take commercial niches that were developed in the countries and accompany them as best we can in finding new partners, in finding the help needed to implement those initiatives.

“The second is, we now have a joint initiative with two other trade institutions both in Geneva – the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Trade Centre (ITC). Together we’ve been trying to coordinate our technical assistance activities on cotton by-products.”

He adds that this new initiative will be able to take up some of the ideas that have been developed to carry the project further.