Cotton was introduced in Uganda by the British Cotton Growers’ Association in 1903 by the British Colonialists as the first cash crop. Production was carried out in Uganda by small scale farmers, and ginning was done in Kenya and the lint was then exported to Liverpool to service the British Textile Mills. From 1903 to 1930, it was purely grown as a Government crop whereby each family had to mandatorily have at least 0.5 Ha as a way of generating household incomes. In the 1920s, Coffee was introduced, followed by Tea and Tobacco. Eventually, coffee overtook cotton in the 1930s as the country’s major foreign exchange earner and cotton took second place.
The sector was mainly dominated by the Indians who established ginneries across the country and took over Processing and Marketing while Government retained the Research, Seed Breeding, Extension Services, Input Supply and Quality Control functions. In addition, Government established 3 textile mills and 1 spinning mill to add value to lint and to absorb the increasing production.
This resulted to increased production to 371,000 bales by 1960/61. However, the population revolted against the private sector due to exploitation and farmer co-operatives emerged around 1962.Government compensated the Indians, took over ownership of the ginneries totaling about 50 and handed them over to the Co-operative Unions
It also established a Lint Marketing Board (LMB) with monopoly to trade in all the lint and cotton seed. It also retained all the other functions mentioned above. As a result, production shot up reaching the highest level ever produced in Uganda of 470,000 bales of lint in 1969/70.
However, the 1970- 1980 political turmoil that befell the country did not spare the crop. Activities of cotton production were severely affected. Consequently, production fell radically reaching the lowest level of 11,000 bales in 1987/88. Uganda Cotton ceased to be traded by grade on the International market and was instead traded by source ginnery of the lint.
In 1994, Cotton marketing and processing were liberalized and the Cotton Development Organization (CDO) was established as a Government body to promote cotton production, monitor production, processing and marketing, regulate the Cotton Subsector. In this year, the marketing season opened officially on 30th October, 2015 and to-date 3,906,756 kg of seed cotton (equivalent to 8,818 bales of lint) supplied to ginners. But due to the loss of ground by the textile industry to the competition coming from the Far East and to second hand clothing, only around 5 % of the total cotton production is consumed by two local textile factories. These are Fine Spinners and Nyanza Textile Industry.
While appearing before the Parliament Committee on Budget on 24th November, 2015 to defend the Ugx 10bn supplementary expenditure advanced to CDO for the purchase of 2,000 metric tones of cotton buffer stock in FY2014/15. Mrs. Jolly Sabune, the Managing Director of CDO highlighted the various achievements that has been registered in the sector. These ranges from the establishment of 1820 acre of cotton growing in 20 districts by prison farms and army units, improved yields by farmers of 1,000- 1,500 kg per acre among others.
However, she also pointed out some challenges facing the sector which includes; the continued dependence on climatic seasons, persistence incidences of new pest, declining soil fertility, high cost of production inputs most of which are imported, lack of cohesion among farmers and low levels of domestic value addition to lint which perpetuates dependence on internationally determined lint process since over 95% of locally produced lint is exported as a raw material.
She further articulated that the above challenges are being addressed by the Regulation Body through adopting synergies with cotton sub-sector stake holders. For example, the Technical Assistance Program being implemented by the Government of India with the aim if strengthening competitiveness of the cotton sector in Africa; Cotton Production Support Program both CDO and Uganda Ginners and Cotton Exporters’ Association (UGCEA) are promoting the use of yield and quality enhancing inputs in cotton production.
CDO has also partnered with National Semi-arid Resources Research Institute in Serere District to improve generation and release of new cotton varieties that meet the required terms of drought, pest and disease tolerance, high yields and better lint characteristics. The regulator has also collaborated with the Uganda Prisons and some army units to undertake commercial cotton production and with ginners and local textile millers to implement the Revolving Lint Buffer Stock Fund for provision of raw material (lint) to the textile.
However, the above interventions are still minimal, in the current FY2015/16 the sector was allocated only Ugx 5.30bn, it is high time for parliament to urge government to increase public funding to the cotton sector to enable farmers add value, acquire the requisite inputs; organize farmers to form strong and credible groups, provide incentives like reducing on the electricity tariffs which will owe investors to Uganda, ensure stability in the prices of cotton by establishing a cotton buffer stock fund.
With China experiencing high costs of production in the textile industry despite the rise of Asian cotton block, Africa remains the most suitable continent to become the next cotton production for the world due to it favorable climate. Uganda has a comparative advantage in the region owing to the good quality of cotton produced and the available manpower. Countries like Ethiopia have already tapped into the in textile industry by providing incentives like electricity. This promoted Kenya to invest over US$40m in the cotton sector to increase its production.
Cotton is one of the most strategic crop for resolving a number of multi-sectoral challenges affecting the county. It is capable of increasing household incomes and poverty alleviation. Government and Parliament should support the sector towards establishing large scale commercial production; increase in domestic value addition to lint. This will create employment opportunities for the youths, generate revenue and contribute to the stabilization of the country’s Balance of Payment.