A national intervention in the SA cotton textiles and apparel sector has helped unlock the growth and job creation potential of the cotton industry. It is estimated that almost 50 000 jobs were created or maintained in the cotton industry as a result of the increased number of hectares planted since 2014.
It all started when cotton industry leaders seized the opportunities offered by the Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI) and applied for funds to establish a national cluster, the Southern African Sustainable Textile and Apparel Cluster (SASTAC). This five-year plan, supported by an original R200-million grant fund, started in 2014. Its aim was to improve capacity and competitiveness and to create jobs in the cotton, textile and apparel industry.
Through this initiative the cotton industry, led by Cotton SA, formed the Sustainable Cotton Cluster (SCC). The SCC connects the entire cotton supply chain under one umbrella: farmers, ginneries, yarn manufacturers, weavers and knitters, dyers, finishing plants, retailers and consumers.
In the five years since the inception of the SCC, cotton production in South Africa has increased more than eightfold.
Cotton SA CEO, Hennie Bruwer, says production has increased from 25 000 bales in 2013 to roughly 200 000 bales in the 2017/18 season, with a further increase of 20% is expected in the new production year.
A third of the cotton lint produced in the previous season was Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton. BCI is the largest cotton sustainability standard in the world and exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.
The initiative is also driven by demand from retailers, with MrPrice Group and Edcon Group creating integrated product lines from sustainable cotton sourced from SA. These include items like T-shirts, chinos, towels and underwear. Other retailers who have been part of the journey are Woolworths and Ackermans. Woolworths Holdings is the first SA retailer to become a member of the BCI programme and has committed to sourcing 100% of its cotton as “more sustainable cotton” by 2020.
SA has about 150 commercial farmers and 1 300 small growers, with 51 of the commercial farmers and 1 115 of the smallholder farmers being BCI licenced. The South African cotton growing areas are mainly located in Limpopo, Northern Cape, North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
During the 2017/2018 season, five cotton projects involving 1 300 small farmers were supported as part of the programme.
They planted a total of 5 000 ha of cotton (each hectare is about the size of a rugby field). According to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, every three hectares of cotton planted creates four jobs – three on the farm and one in the processing and retail sectors. This means that almost 50 000 jobs were created or maintained by the programme since its inception in 2014.
According to Cotton SA, the significant growth in the cotton industry has also resulted in capital investment from the private sector of more than R200 million in cotton processing. Bruwer adds that the Loskop Cotton Gin in Marble Hall was replaced with a totally new gin with increased capacity. Another new gin in Koedoeskop, Limpopo, is also now in operation. Farmers are putting their hands deep in their pockets to buy new harvesting machines to deal with the bigger crop.