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Climate change to worsen the plight of cotton farmers

Climate change or rather climate variability will continue to decimate cotton production. Different regions will be affected differently with lots of uncertainties leading to difficulties in advising farmers on how to respond to these drastic changes in weather patterns.

Africa, with lower average yields will be further negatively affected by erratic and unreliable rainfall seasons resulting in even lower yields. New pests and pest resistance to pesticides are also expected to increase due to global warming. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) 77th Plenary Meeting in Abidjan brought researchers and other experts together in December 2018 to have serious conversions around these challenges.

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The possible solutions to the climate change threat, as discussed in the plenary meeting revolve around use of short season varieties, increased use of Biotech (BT) cotton and increased investments in meteorological services provision by national governments. Short season varieties mature early and stand a better chance of surviving short rainfall seasons that have become common in the region in recent times.

Biotech (BT) cotton also presents a better alternative to conventional cotton varieties with improved pest resistance and far much higher yields. The pest resistance reduces use of costly pesticides which in turn reduces farmers’ exposure to hazardous pesticides.

However, in the SADC region there is still some resistance from some countries in adopting the use of BT crops. Improved meteorological services will provide real time weather services at local level and therefore improve farmers’ decision making on what activities to carry out and when.

In conclusion, cotton production remains one of the low hanging fruit in fighting rural poverty as it is a cash crop with a long history of being produced in many countries in Africa. Cotton is mainly produced for export markets and therefore a major foreign currency earner.

Cotton production provides employment in rural areas and indeed in the whole value chain and can assist governments to deal with the ever-increasing unemployment in most countries in Africa.