Cotton remains one of the most versatile crops grown by humanity, noted for its appearance, comfort and the many useful products it provides.
- From the seed: flour and feed, refined oil (salad and cooking), margarine, soap and cosmetics, writing materials, rayon industrial fabrics, yarns, plastics, lamp and candle wicks, twine, rugs, mops, furniture upholstery etc.
- From the lint: clothes, underwear, linings for canvas, tents, medical bandages, sheets, towels, curtains etc.
Because it is both a food and a fibre crop, a multisectoral, multipronged approach is what is needed to nurture this sector to reach its full potential (De Bruyn, 2021).
International business environment
Find international updates at:
- The cotton pages of the International Trade Center website, www.intracen.org/itc/sectors/cotton.
- A further useful resource is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Cotton: World Markets and Trade circular.
- International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) www.icac.org. The ICAC is an association of governments of cotton producing, consuming and trading countries.
- Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) https://bettercotton.org The BCI is “a global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world”.
- Find the reference book Cotton Exporter’s Guide at www.intracen.org/cotton-exporter-guide/.
- Cotton made in Africa, an initiative of the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) that helps African smallholder cotton farmers in Africa to improve their living conditions – www.cottonmadeinafrica.org
- Cotlook Outlook – www.cotlook.com
- www.cottonafrica.com – The African Cotton & Textiles Trade Link
Local business environment
Visit www.cottonsa.org.za for the latest cotton market reports.
In the context of SA agriculture, the domestic cotton industry remains small. However, there is great potential in this crop. For example, the increase in its gross producer value (GPV) recently was the second highest of the agricultural sectors (ABSA, 2018).
Cotton was a casualty of SA’s lockdowns, but had challenges before this – availability of seed, restructuring of gin capacity and unfavourable growing conditions at the beginning of the season. Lockdowns brought their own challenges in harvesting, ginning and export activity (BFAP, 2020; De Bruyn, 2020).
A 32% drop in area under production will lead to a decline of some 43% year-on-year. Despite this, cotton is expected to maintain and continue its upward trend (Cotton SA, 2021; BFAP, 2021).
Historical cotton production areas include Limpopo Province (Springbok flats from Bela-Bela to Mokopane and Weipe), North West Province (Taung, Stella, Delareyville, Maratsane), KwaZulu-Natal (Makhathini Flats), Mpumalanga and Northern Cape (lower Orange River, Vaalharts, Douglas, Marydale and Prieska). Hectares planted and yields for the Republic of South Africa (Swaziland excluded) are on the graph that follows:
|Marketing Year||Hectares Irrigation||Hectares Dryland||Total Hectares||Yield Irrigation||Yield Dryland||Average Yield|
|2009/10||4 151||960||5 111||4 865||712||4 085|
|2010/11||11 640||1 505||13 145||3 931||715||3 563|
|2011/12||7 231||2 166||9 397||4 405||541||3 514|
|2012/13||2 956||3 871||6 827||3 979||687||2 112|
|2013/14||4 566||2 892||7 458||4 785||687||3 196|
|2014/15||8 592||6 636||15 228||4 946||1 129||3 283|
|2015/16||5 843||2 510||8 353||4 563||635||3 383|
|2016/17||7 301||10 540||17 841||4 411||1 048||2 424|
|2017/18||19 273||14 355||33 628||4 595||910||3 022|
|2018/19||23 781||17 192||40 973||4 781||1 019||3 193|
|2019/20||11 543||16 132||27 675||4 393||1 206||2 477|
|2020/21||5 550||10 321||15 871||4 475||1 604||2 608|
2020/21 figures are an estimate. Yield figures are Kg seed cotton per hectare. Source: Cotton SA
Cotton in South Africa is currently marketed on free-market principles, i.e. there is no intervention or restriction on the buying and selling of cotton and prices are determined by the market.
Farmers market their cotton in one of the following ways:
- The seed cotton is sold by the grower to a ginner who gins the cotton and sells the cotton lint for his own account to spinners (and seed to processors), either directly or by making use of agents; or
- The grower does not sell his seed cotton to the ginner but contracts the ginner to gin it on his behalf on payment of a ginning fee (some growers also own their own gins). The cotton lint and seed remain the property of the producer who then either markets it himself or contracts the gin or someone else to market the cotton lint (or seed) on his behalf.
- The grower can gin their cotton in their own gins. They can then either market the cotton lint and seed themselves or get someone else to do it for them.
Five of the six ginners currently operating in South Africa are farmer-owned.
Challenges to our cotton producers are:
- Competition from other summer crops.
- Relative high input costs.
- High cost of mechanization, i.e. picking costs.
- Low cotton prices.
Source: Cotton SA
- The Bureau for Food & Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline 2021-2030 contains a mini-study “Competitiveness of Cotton Production in South Africa”, which compares the profitability of cotton in comparison to maize and sunflower (see Box 4). Find the document at www.bfap.co.za.
- Van der Walt J. 2021, April 21. “Concern about decrease in SA cotton plantings”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/concern-about-decrease-in-sa-cotton-plantings/
- De Bruyn C. 2021, January 27. “Cotton: A golden opportunity for South Africa?” Bizcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/742/212489.html
- De Bruyn C. 2020, August 11. “The cotton sector: A myriad of challenges, a world of opportunities”. Bixcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/742/207128.html
- Agri SA Official. 2019, July 9. “Fokus op Katoen SA” [Focus on Cotton SA]. Available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ6-paMZL74
Small-scale farmer news
Find the latest news and information about small-scale cotton farmer development at www.cottonsa.org.za.
Two of the main objectives of the National Cotton Strategy Plan, developed by Cotton SA and other role players, are to broaden participation enabling small producers to continue increasing their share of the South African crop as well as to raise productivity by training of smallholder cotton growers. Cotton SA’s contribution in achieving this objective is amongst others by way of The Small Scale Cotton Farmers’ Forum (a standing committee of Cotton SA). The main function of the Forum is to co-ordinate and monitor progress with regard to the set objectives and to provide an environment where positive interaction between role-players could lead to increased market access for the small cotton farmer.
Cotton SA is an AgriSETA accredited training institution and its small-scale farmer training programme remains its core transformation initiative. The training of small-scale farmers takes place in collaboration with local government and the agricultural colleges in the small-scale farmer cotton production regions.
This formal skills development program (which involves a certain number of unit standards at NQF level 1) is organised in four 5 day modules, each of which are synchronised with the normal production cycle of the crop and presented over a 12 month period. The subjects covered in the 4 modules are:
- introduction, soil preparation and planting
- plant protection, pests, diseases and weeds
- pre-harvest crop preparation, harvesting and grading
- financial management
The courses are theoretical as well as practical, the latter making up about 60% of course content. Experts in each field are drawn from various cotton role players to impart their expertise to the groups in training.
Cotton SA also has a Mentorship Program for small-scale cotton farmers in view of the need for a support system for farmers already trained in cotton production. This initiative is aimed to identify and guide mentors in the different small-holder farmer cotton production regions, who in turn impart their knowledge and practical skills to other small-holder farmers, in order to enable the latter to produce cotton in a sustainable and profitable manner.
Cotton SA annually also disseminates market and other relevant information to small-scale cotton farmers specifically, in the following manner:
- By way of monthly market reports
- By way of the bi-annual Cotton SA Katoen magazine, which features a regular section aimed at small-scale farmers specifically. The magazine is mailed to more than 500 small-scale cotton farmers.
- By convening farmer information days in small-scale farmer production areas.
- By way of articles in small grower agricultural publications.
- By way of an illustrated Training Manual for Small-Scale Cotton Growers, in Zulu and English.
Research projects are identified by cotton growers (including small-scale farmers) and other role-players on a continuous basis and are undertaken by ARC-Industrial Crops. Most of the research projects are of benefit to both commercial as well as to small-scale farmers whilst some are specifically aimed at the small grower. Research results are published on a regular basis in the Cotton SA Katoen magazine.
Small Scale Cotton Farmer’s Forum
- After being closed for about 5 years, the Makhathini Cotton Gin was purchased by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development on behalf of Makhathini cotton farmers and following renovations, ginning operations were resumed. Find the 2015 Vuk’uzenzele and The Mercury reports.
- KwaZulu-Natal – “Green Revolution”. Green Revolution is a project undertaken by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and the private sector to quadruple output in the province by the year 2020. Some R100 million has already been earmarked for the development of the Makhatini Flats into a viable cotton-growing area. Hundreds of emerging small-scale farmers stand to benefit. Several other schemes have been mooted which will see the province’s agricultural sector intensifying production of several crops.
National strategy and government contact
Cotton production absorbs labour which appeals to the country’s job creation strategies. There is also a strong emphasis on farmer development, making it important that the industry is given the necessary help it requires to be competitive.
The South African Cotton Producers Organisation and Cotton SA initiated the process of linking up with various like-minded textile, apparel and retail sector stakeholders to formulate the concept of establishing a national cluster. The then Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) approved a five-year plan and an initial R200 million grant fund for the establishment of the Southern African Sustainable Textile and Apparel Cluster (SASTAC) to leapfrog the local industry’s competitiveness capability in global sustainable textile and apparel manufacturing. SASTAC’s Sustainable Cotton Cluster (SCC), 2014-2019, turned cotton’s fortunes around in this country. The 2019/20 year has been challenging, but cotton is expected to resume its upward trajectory (BFAP, 2020; De Bruyn, 2020).
Cotton SA www.cottonsa.org.za
Cotton SA is a cotton industry service company providing the following functions:
- the rendering of information services
- the stimulation of the production and the usage of cotton
- the co-ordination of research
- the establishment of quality standards and norms as well as training in this regard
Cotton SA also acts as industry forum and facilitator for the development of the small cotton grower sector. Cotton SA is also the administrator of statutory measures (compulsory submission of monthly returns by processors and imposition of a levy on cotton lint produced to finance its functions). Cotton SA is not in any way involved in the marketing of cotton or cotton products, which are traded on free market principles.
The South African Cotton Producers Organisation (SACPO) is a representative national organisation for cotton farmers with the aim of creating wealth for its members through the provision of markets, skills, partnerships and alliances.
The SA Cotton Ginners Association (SACGA) is the representative body of cotton ginners. Find information about the SACGA at www.cottonsa.org.za.
SA Cotton Textile Manufacturers Association (SACTMA) Tel: 079 513 1945
This is the representative body of cotton spinners.
South African Textile Industry Export Council (SATIEC) Tel: 021 959 4162 / 082 455 3263
Training and research
Training DVDs on hand picking and machine picking of cotton are available from Cotton SA.
AGRI Enterprises https://agrienterprises.co.za Training on all aspects of the value chain including cotton processing
ARC-Industrial Crops (IC) www.arc.agric.za
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Fibres and Textiles Industrial Support Tel: 041 508 3200 / 23 / 89 www.csir.co.za
The Research and Technology Committee of Cotton SA meet on a regular basis with one of the main aims to evaluate research projects identified and prioritised by role players. Research results are obtainable from the Institute and also published on a regular basis in the Cotton SA Katoen magazine.
These Agricultural Colleges have been sanctioned by the industry to run the accredited cotton course developed by Cotton SA:
- Lowveld College of Agriculture (Nelspruit) Tel: 013 753 3064
- Tompi Seleka College of Agriculture (Limpopo Province) Tel: 013 268 9300/1
- Owen Sithole College of Agriculture (KZN) Tel: 035 195 1345 www.kzndard.gov.za
PCI Agricultural Services Tel: 072 011 0687 www.pciagri.co.za
- Koedoeskop Cotton Gin Tel: 083 765 4753 / 082 610 1063
- Loskop Cotton Tel: 013 261 1498
- Makhathini Cotton Gin Tel: 079 733 0422
- Noord-Kaap Katoenpluismeule Tel: 082 948 2569 / 72
- GWK Cotton Gin Tel: 053 581 0037
- Weipe Cotton Gin Tel: 015 533 3021
- Vaalharts Cotton Tel: 053 474 0115
Other role players
- Cape Clothing and Textile Cluster https://capeclothingcluster.org.za A “not-for-profit initiative jointly established by government and industry to boost the competitiveness of the clothing, textile, footwear and leather (CTFL) manufacturing industry in the Western Cape”.
- Cotton Traders www.cottontraders.co.za
- Craft and Design Institute (CDI) www.thecdi.org.za Business-, product-, market- and design support
- Granny Goose www.home.co.za
- Nedan (Pty) Ltd https://philafricafoods.com/nedan/
- Peek – www.peek.org.za – “is South Africa’s first digital portal dedicated to visually showcasing beautiful craft and design products made in South Africa”.
- SA Cotton Waste supplies cotton waste (an inexpensive cleaning product) to South African mines and industry. They are also major suppliers of string, twine and rope, both natural and synthetic. See www.sacotton.co.za.
- South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) www.sactwu.org.za
- Standerton Mills Tel: 017 712 2315 Yarns and fabrics made from cotton
- The Cotton Company https://thecottoncompany.co.za
- Western Cape Clothing and Textile Service Centre (CLOTEX) Tel: 021 637 3648
- Woolworths has an organic cotton sourcing programme.
Websites and publications
Find the “Resources” option at www.cottonsa.org.za.
Environmental Needs Of The Cotton Plant by Dr CG Theron. This and other related articles may be downloaded from the Cotton SA website.
Cotton SA – Educational Brochure, with needs of scholars and students in mind, is obtainable free of charge. The brochure contains among others, sections on the history, production, processing and uses of cotton.
The following may be ordered electronically from the Cotton SA website – www.cottonsa.org.za:
- The Cotton SA Katoen magazine. This is published bi-annually. Its main focus is on the producer but carries information on the whole industry. Cotton SA distributes the magazine free to subscribers in South Africa.
- Management Guide. This comprehensive bilingual guide was compiled by the ARC-Institute for Industrial Crops and is aimed at the commercial farmer with the aim to broaden his/her knowledge. The publication covers the full spectrum of cotton farming and contains chapters on cultivation guidelines, insect and disease control and the harvesting of cotton.
- Cotton Guide For The Small-Holder Farmer
- Company Brochure
- Core Statistics
Available from the ARC-Agricultural Engineering (ARC-AE) is the booklet Agro-processing of Textile Crops (Cotton, flax, hemp, sisal). Contact 012 842 4017 or visit www.arc.agric.za.
The SADC Secretariat and German Development Corporation‘s Profiling of the Regional Agro-Processing Value Chains in the SADC Region (March 2019) includes a look at cotton ginning and other possibilities.
Find the latest Cotton Market Value Chain Profile on the Department of Agriculture Land Reform & Rural Development website, www.dalrrd.gov.za, on the Directorate Marketing pages. The “Cotton production guidelines” and a cotton brochure are also available here (under “Resource centre”).
The Textile Federation: www.texfed.co.za. Find the database of members and role players e.g. dyers and finishers, knitted fabrics, yarns etc. [Website not working, 22 November 2021]
- Reporter. 2021, October 14. “Cotton farming provides diversification options for South African canegrowers”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/cotton-farming-provides-diversification-options-for-south-african-canegrowers-2021-10-14/rep_id:4136
- De Bruyn C. 2021, January 27. “Cotton: A golden opportunity for South Africa?” Bizcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/742/212489.html
- Van der Walt J. 2020, May 20. “Cotton industry upbeat despite global plunge in consumption”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/cotton-industry-upbeat-despite-global-plunge-in-consumption/
- Cotton SA. 2019, June 4. “Regional workshop promoting cotton by-products in Africa”. AgriOrbit. Available at www.agriorbit.com/regional-workshop-promoting-cotton-by-products-in-africa/
- Hartebeest C. 2019, April 17. “Revival of small-scale cotton farming can push back rural poverty”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/between-the-headlines-revival-of-small-scale-cotton-farming-can-push-back-rural-poverty/
- Staff Reporter. 2019, March 13. “Sustainable cotton initiative increases cotton production more than eight-fold”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/sustainable-cotton-initiative-increases-cotton-production-more-than-eight-fold/
- Coleman A. 2019, March 12. “Cotton can be more profitable than maize!” Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/cotton-can-be-more-profitable-than-maize/
- Hartebeest C. 2019, February 6. “Electrician finds his spark in cotton farming”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/electrician-finds-his-spark-in-cotton-farming/
- Joubert R. 2018, August 20. “How SA cotton industry created 5 500 jobs in four years”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-business/empowerment/sa-cotton-industry-created-5-500-jobs-four-years/
- Dean S. 2017, November 1. “Cotton gains ground with up-to-date harvesting tech”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/cotton-gains-ground-date-harvesting-tech/
- Ngobese T. 2015. “Cotton project set to transform rural community”. Vuk’uzenzele. Available at www.vukuzenzele.gov.za/cotton-project-set-transform-rural-community
- Ntuli N. 2015, August 18. “Makhathini cotton comeback”. The Mercury. Available at www.kzndard.gov.za/images/Documents/Newsroom/MEDIA_CLIPPINGS/Media_Clippings_2015/AUGUST_2015/Makhathini%20cotton%20cameback_.pdf
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