June 09, 2006, Lusaka
The Organisation Development and Community Management Trust (ODCMT) would like to thank and support the Ministry of Agriculture and Corporatives in the fight against exploitation in the cotton sector. The organization has since 2003 been campaigning against the low prices offered to small-scale cotton farmers by multinational companies. It is encouraging that the ministry has finally come to the long awaited aid of a small-scale cotton farmer. This is a clear manifestation of political will and a representation of the importance that government attaches to the agriculture sector and its citizens.

The ODCMT is hereby appealing to members of parliament and other political leaders to take advantage of the suspension of cotton trading to finally show their support and concern for the people who voted them into power. Cotton farmers have been complaining of foul play in the sector for so long that one would wonder why their leaders have given them a deaf ear. For a district that depends on cotton, developing in that area should be based around the crop and must be a priority in the manifesto of a political leader and if this is the case, what happens to these leaders the moment they are sworn into power. Leaders need to show their passion, interest and dedication to protect the people they represent by ensuring that the people are not exploited by investors aiming the make a profit at their expense. The will then show the relevance of the leaders to their people.

The cotton farmers have complained of exploitation by multinational companies who have been using them (small-scale farmers) as cheap labour. Farmers have complained about among other issues; the lack of adequate farmer representation, low producer prices, unclear grading and weighing systems, unclear and biased contract terms which are set by one party (ginners), non provision of protective clothing and the high costs of inputs.

The immediate suspension of buying and selling of cotton announced by the minister of Agriculture is a positive move by government and will facilitate a platform for dialogue between ginners and the cotton farmers. This initiative should be supported not only by our political leaders but by all well-meaning Zambians.

The ODCMT would like to appeal to government to extend such measures to other sectors of the economy and ensure that similar cases are brought to light and sorted out. There is a lot of exploitation of citizens by foreign investors who want to make profits at the expense of poor people’s sweat. The ODCMT believe that investment should be a way to lift people out of poverty by creating jobs, development of infrastructure and social services but the common practice in today’s investment setup is that the majority of the poor are dragged deeper into poverty through exploitative practices.

Therefore, it is important that people’s rights are respected, protected and provided for. Instead of reducing poverty, investment in Zambia has shown little meaning to the economy of the country because of the ruthless monopoly in some sectors by foreign investors. The cotton sector has potential to lift millions of people, particularly small scale farmers and their families out of poverty but this potential is being hampered by unfair trade practices and exploitation through offering of low prices by multinational companies. It is sad that the companies have in the shortest period of time grown bug but small-scale cotton farmers have continued to wallow in poverty.

The ODCMT supports the stance by government to find alternative market for this year’s cotton if the ginners will not agree to buy the cotton at a fair price. Zambia needs investment, but not at the expense of the people.
Irene Banda
Acting Executive Director