Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Cotton SA could emerge as a serious contender

A woman picks cotton at a Marble Hall, Limpopo farm. (Photo: Ayanda Mthethwa)

Today, Cotton SA is hanging by a thread as local policy failed to stand up to aggressive protectionism measures enforced by trading partners. But some state capital and corporate commitment in setting up a local sustainable cotton cluster might have turned the tide.

The local Sustainable Cotton Cluster (SCC) is dreaming big. It is planning to launch a sustainable and transparent cotton production and beneficiation pipeline in South Africa, successfully connect it to offshore supply chains, and tap into a growing global consumer conscience.

Sustainable farming comes down to the ability to prove minimal environmental impact, paying your fair share and taking care of surrounding communities. So opaque pricing practice and unfair trading terms afforded by government subsidies and tariff protections will no longer fly.

With a level playing field, Hennie Bruwer, CEO of Cotton SA, thinks the local industry is up to the task.

The SCC programme has brought together the entire cotton value chain and was formed as a coordinated platform for cotton, textile and retail value chain stakeholders to formulate strategies which would ensure growth and stability in the sector.

The cluster is made up of cotton farmers, ginners, spinners, fabric producers, manufacturers and retailers. This initiative is strongly supported by the government.

The SCC was established in June 2014, funded by an initial grant of R200-million from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The grant supports a five-year plan to establish a strong momentum for the growth and development of the southern African cotton sub-national cluster.

The SCC is the only national cluster that has delivered on its mandate, and still in existence after the DTI closed shop to new applications two years ago. It is even in talks with the DTI to potentially extend the incentive for another five years.

The cluster has also reported that 7,000 additional jobs have been created in the textile and retail industry and 1,240 small, medium size enterprises created.

Clearly, SCC means business. For its ventures offshore, Bruwer says the cluster already provides the technology for full traceability, from farm to retail, sustainability impact measurement and supply chain management.

It also enables stakeholders to fulfil their social and environmental responsibility and contribute to a stronger economy in southern Africa.”

Bruwer says the cluster is working on building integrated supply chains.

The growth and sustainability of our cotton industry depend on integrated supply chain programmes (ISCP) that are driven by retail demand and are built on virtual partnerships between supply chain stakeholders. It supports ‘near-sourcing’ and ‘quick response’ and provides for supply chain transparency and stakeholder trust to make our industry competitive.”

He adds that South Africa already produces high quality, exportable cotton and the GMO technology applied to seed improvement is delivering better crop yields.

The demand for the product is already there, he says.

The world’s oldest commercial crop is the most material input fibre in the weaving or knitting of all types of fabric in the world today, whether flannel, corduroy or velvet. It is used to bind our books, filter our coffee and used for the nets to babyproof our swimming pools.

Cottonseed is also a food crop, fed to cattle and crushed to make oil for cooking.

Linters – the short fibres that remain on the cottonseed after ginning – are used to produce goods such as bank notes and X-rays.

So prospects are endless. SA just needs to pump up the production volume and add a bit more weight to the international production scale.

Cotton SA’s 2018/19 production forecasts indicate a cotton crop of 244-649 lint bales, an increase of 30% over the previous season due to better than expected yields.

Dry and irrigated farmland dedicated to cotton crops has already increased by 33% and 22% respectively from last season, mainly due to the more favourable prices of cotton in relation to competing crops such as maize, but also due to renewed interest in local production and future growth prospects.

To put that into context, while global cotton consumption is expected to increase by only 1% in 2019/20, global production is expected by the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) to increase by 7% to 27.6 million tons.

The cluster has great support in changing production targets. Fellow members of the SCC – Edcon, Woolworths and Mr Price­ – have made a commitment to a localised cotton initiative from “farm to shelf”. What started as a test pilot with a commitment of 600 tons of cotton lint from South African cotton farmers has now grown to a staggering commitment of 2,200 tons of cotton lint.

Noël Paulson, Divisional Executive Production and Sourcing at Edcon added:

Edgars and Jet increased the amount of lint cotton it buys from farmers from 600 tons in 2016 to 2,200 tons in 2019/2020. This is a clear indication of their commitment towards increasing the amount of cotton they procure locally and pulling it through a South African value chain benefitting all production partners in the process.”

However, production still falls short of meeting SA’s cotton lint consumption of around 315,000 t/y. It imports 95% of its cotton, mostly from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The industry is targeting output of 60,000 t/y of cotton lint by 2020. BM


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