Farmers complain about revenues:Cotton plantation in Abyan [Archives:2004/801/Business & Economy]

December 23 2004

By Ali al-Naqeeb
Yemen Times Staff

At first glance cotton farmers in Abyan governorate seem like pearl hunters who dedicate half of their lives looking for an oyster and once they find one they surrender it to the ship owner in return for accommodation and food.
Farmers in Abyan stand between two fires: Abyan Committee on one hand and Al-Maz Company on the other one, these two parties provide the farmers with seeds and loans but when these are harvested, they claim their money leaving hardly anything for the farmers.
This is due to the monopoly in the market, which has lowered cotton's productivity and value. In other countries like Sudan, more than two million hectares are planted in just one project while in Yemen the cotton planting area is around 27 thousand hectares using ad-hoc irrigation techniques, and the Ministry of Irrigation stands helpless in the face of water scarcity and soil erosion.
Abyan Cotton has an international reputation for its good quality, flexibility and strength in comparison to other Egyptian-Sudanese hybrid cotton. However, this reputation is not sufficient for the farmer who used to receive free grants and technical support from the British government during the occupation, not for the benefit of the farmers as much as for the sake of covering the British need for cotton especially after India refused to support Britain with cotton.
Ali al-Naqeeb, Yemen Times correspondent in Abyan investigated this issue and interviewed a number of people concerned, such as head of the Agriculture Office in the province, farmers and specialists.
Several employees of the Agriculture Office refused to talk to the Yemen Times about the issue. The executive director of the Al-Maz Company also refused to answer YT questions about the role of the company in supporting the farmers, increasing the planted areas, fighting pests, and the impact of cotton winders on the inhabitants in the surrounding areas.
However, Mr. Saeed Awadh al-Humami member of the administration board of Abyan Committee who talked about the Committee and its relation with cotton plantation as he said:
“It started with the retreat of British influence in India and Egypt and they transferring attention to Aden which was made a British Middle East Base. In 1943 the Abyan project in al-Koud Area was established and was developed later to become al-Koud Agricultural Research Center. In 1946 long staple cotton was introduced and Abyan Committee and the Research Center were seen then as attached establishments. Between 1948 and 1949 cotton plantation took a commercial dimension in order to compensate for the loss of Sudan, Egypt and India cotton production. In that time, the Abyan Committee presented the Abyan's Delta farmers' interests being a public establishment. British expertise and directors supervised the Committee in addition to an administration board composed of members of the two Sultanates then: al-Fadhiliya and Costal Yafi'e. The Abyan Committee's Law issued in 1961 organized the administrative, agricultural and legal affairs of the Committee. After independence from the British occupation the Committee continued its work and was transformed into a public institution by the Minister's cabinet decree in April 2000 and which was concerned with returning the ownership of the Committee to the local farmers in Abyan.
This was welcomes with high spirits from the farmers who considered the return of the Committee to their ownership a victory and an achievement of the government. Since that date the administration board of the Committee issued a number of articles such as reforming price line and preparing for elections of the new board composed of the farmers themselves. In 2002 the new board was elected of 15 members and a number of issues were stressed regarding the Committee's nature and work such as:

– Abyan Agricultural Cooperation Committee is financially and administratively independent
– To enhance the relation with the partners and regain their trust with the Committee as a social and economic society that works for the farmers
– Increasing the cotton prices
– Distributing 50% of agricultural surplus on the farmers according to their production
– Enhancing administrative performance and using computers and internet in internal and external communication
– Searching for financial funding to buy the cotton

Regarding the relationship of the Committee with the farmers he explained that after the elections of the current administration and its initiating a number of activities the relation improved and the farmers felt the positive influence of the Committee on them. Especially that a number of achievements had been witnessed in the cotton plantation out of which:
– increasing cotton sales to 35 Yemeni Riyals per pound
– distributing 50% of the surplus cotton on the farmers according to production
– reorganising of membership
– granting white loans
– facilitating payment of cotton purchase to the farmers
– enhancing the relations with the farmers in the field

What are the future horizons for cotton plantation?
Cotton harvest is an ancient agricultural activity in the area. It is the only yielding harvest that grows with just one watering in up to seven months. It is important in brining in hard currency and activating local transformation industries and employing manpower through permanent and part-time employment. And of course it is one of the most important incomes for the farmers in the area.

There are managerial, technical, financial and natural obstacles such as:
– weak organized managerial, technical and marketing planning of cotton plantation
– the agricultural operations do not follow the best standards in selection of land, irrigation, fertilization, thinning, gap-filling, weeding and protection.
– Absence of effective instructions and agricultural guidance and their link with research
– High price of inputs to the agricultural operation such as labor, fertilizers tc
– Absences of facilities and incentives for the farmers
– Deterioration of the irrigation network especially in the lower part of the Delta
– Difficulty in availing financial funding for buying cotton from farmers
– High price of cotton gin
– Mishandling of committee's property and distributing it to other official institutions

The only means to overcome these obstacles will be through the enabling of the Abyan Committee especially financially through the integrated work of various stakeholders such as the government, private and public institutions and cooperations. The idea is to establish institutional organizations with successful managerial, marketing and technical administrations that would encourage long staple cotton plantation and growth and with greater benefit.

There are a number of requirements to achieve this of which are:
1- Strengthening personal skills of the committee through:
a. annual financial loan from the agriculture and fish fund
b. establishing a modern gin instead of the outdated manual ones
c. improving the administrative and planning performance and organizing the relation with the farmers democratically
2- Clarifying the states agricultural strategic policies and objectives in the cotton related issues and to facilitate plantation especially in regards to Abyan Cooperative Committee
3- Developing research and studies in cotton plantation and to professionally supervise the whole plantation process
4- Enhancing marketing and commercial activities in order to improve financial process
5- Re-establishing the irrigation network and to construct dams and water reservoirs in cooperation with the farmers
6- Improving the prevention and instruction services and to enhance the farmers awareness through the ministry of agriculture and the agricultural union and related organizations
7- Providing the farming requirements in reasonable prices and facilitating the access to these requirements
8- Returning the properties and lands of the committee to the people in charge or to the state or to compensate them

What is the relation between the committee and the agricultural societies? And what is the impact of the committee on the agricultural services?
Mr. Nasir Jubran head of Abyan Committee responded that Abyan's committee was the administrative and organizational framework for agriculture. It was a complete system for the agricultural processes such as irrigation, land engineering, and research. And since the farmers are considered the pillar of the agricultural communities then the Abyan's Committee after its return according to the cabinet of ministers decree number 96 for the year 2000, hence the basic system of the committee was established and the board of directors as well as the monitoring unit. Therefore the committee is considered the overall framework under which the various agricultural societies and associations. Also the relationship between the committee and the various associations is organized every year through agreements contracted with the farmers in the beginning of every cotton season. And accordingly the committee presents facilities and white loans with no interest, as well as seeds and participates in supervising the plantation and the protection of plants from pests. Therefore you can say the relation between the committee and the associations is a membership relation through which a lot of cooperation takes place.

What are the standards of the cotton rates and pricing and the types of seeds?
When fixing the cotton prices we take into account the cost of planting and harvesting and transportation to the weighing station which we ensured to be near and accessible to the farms. The current rate is 35 Yemeni Riyals per one pound of unprocessed cotton, in addition to an increase at end of season between 3-5 Riyals.
The types of seeds are the al-Mualim Seeds 2000 which was induced by the Yemeni Cotton scientist Dr. Abu Bakr Ahmed al-Mualim. These seeds are of good quality and we started using them in 2000, which means they are still young.

What are the social and environmental impacts of cotton as a national product?
Socially, many people benefit from the cotton plantation process starting from the seeds and ending by the marketing of product. Many families depend on this industry for a living and hence it is a tool in eradicating poverty. Environment wise, the life cycle of this plant is very beneficial for the soil as it is remains planted for more than 8 months and also the burning of the cotton trees after extracting them from the land and the two months resting period given to this land (which is known as the closed season) is an important factor in reviving the soil. Moreover efficient planting and growing helps the land and increases the production.

Are there studies or projects that aim at improving cotton plantation?
Cotton is a strategic plant as it yields the state's treasury with hard currency. The government set a national strategy to improve plantation and gin of cotton between 2002-2012 and defined the roles and responsibilities of relevant authorities. We in the Abyan Committee agreed with the general establishment for textile and fabrication to establish a new gin that depends on advanced technologies. If this is achieved it would be one of our foundation infrastructure in cotton plantation and an achievement in the national strategy of this product.

What is the reason behind the decrease in the cotton plantation areas?
Cotton is one of those plants that are irrigated by rainfalls and floods. The scarcity of the water influences the cotton plantation negatively just like it does with most of the other crops. Digging underground tube wells and providing facilities to the farmers in this fields would lead to improving the scene and we hang many hopes on the building of Hassan Dam which will lead to increasing the farms and the underground water percentage.
Finally I would like to direct these words to the farmers that they must take good care in the planting process and prepare the land well so as to achieve a high revenue per Faddan and hence reflects on the financial status of the farmers themselves. I would like to also direct my word to the relevant authorities to implement the agricultural guidance and which is the missing link in the agricultural process in Abyan. And thanks to the Yemen Times for taking interest in the agricultural field and especially in cotton plantation.

Then we met with Mr. Omar Abdullah al-Sayari Agriculture General Director of Abyan

Why do you think the cotton fields have reduced in size?
The farmers are not able to carry out the plantation process on their own and the more they are provided with facilities from the Delta and the Bank the more they are encouraged to invest in this field. The cotton plantation depends on the water and the floods go to the sea. There is a need for a diversion mechanism to maintain the water.

What about the lands near Yaramis Dam which was one of the pioneer areas in this regard?
This is because the floodwaters go to waste and are not utilized properly, the establishment of Hassan Dam will allow the area to regain its activities and produce more

What measure did you take regarding the drought problem?
Our work is limited to instructing and guidance to the well owners as to how to use their water in an optimum way and how to improve their farming with the least costs.

Which authority decides the path line of floods and how they run?
Currently there is no controlling authority and we are working on establishing an irrigation instruction administration that would make decisions and prevent the wasting of water to the sea.

Is there a defined or limited area for cotton plantation?
No, the farmer decides what he wants to grow and the market decides the prices and rates.

Do you provide support to cotton plantation?
There is an unlimited support from the ministry and evidence to that is our campaigns to cotton protection from pests and agricultural insects.

What are your future plans to improving cotton plantation?
We have great ambitions and with the human power and cooperation of efforts we will cause a distinguished leap.

Meeting Masood Saleh a farmer from the area said:
I regret planting cotton and I feel I should have grown chilies or almonds instead.

Why so?
Because cotton planting is expensive and we do not receive any support and when we take it for weighing and selling in the harvest season they take most of its worth because of the loans and we return with almost nothing.

Was it like this in the past?
In the British days things were much better, and even during the revolution but today it's really hard.

So what do you want to convey to the concerned authorities?
I want them to deal with us as was during Britain's days. It was them who introduced the crop and if the authorities today don't do anything about it we will leave this plant and seek more beneficial crops.
We also met with Dr. Ahmed Nasr Saleh specialist in plant and seeds production in the field crops and a general supervisor in the production and multiplying of seeds program.

What is the role of research in improving cotton plantation?
After the revolution, the state took interest in developing and improving agricultural industries as the field crops department started its first program for production of long staple cotton through creating pure lines with high production and good quality. Through this program Caiple 138 line and other production lines such as 266, 227 and others.
Currently we substituted Caiple 138 with al-Mualim 2000 line which was generalized in the time of its inventors death Dr. al-Mualim and is now planted instead of the long staple type Code 4 and which was in production until 1999-2000.
The crops section carries out researches on both medium and long staple cotton in planting and growing stages and this is done through various environments in the country. Currently we are working on improving the quality of the medium and long staple cotton through using Gama rays and creating a new line that is higher in production and better in quality and yields in a shorter time while is more resistant to the pests. The department is also supervising a program for increasing seeds of both medium and long staple in order to produce pure seeds and not genetically mixed and through this the state would no longer need to import seeds from abroad and lose hard currency. The ministry is taking great interest in this program.

How does this program operate?
We have four waves: the bread, breading seeds, basic seeds and approved seeds) the field crops department in close cooperation with the technical team of breading association -Abyan Branch are working on finalizing the waves for the basic and approved seeds.

What are the difficulties in cotton plantation?
There are many, such as pests and infecting weeds, weak irrigation and soil erosion and also the lack of equipments in addition to financial barriers such as the high costs of inputs such as the fertilizers and seeds and chemicals and in many times even if available they are not effective.

What are the types of cotton planted in Abyan?
Abyan is distinguished for its long staple cotton which has a high reputation internationally for its flexibility, softness, length and strength, it comes at par with the Sudanese and Egyptian cottons although it is a hybrid line from them.

Farmer Mabad Jabr talked about the support and subsidizing for cotton plantation:
We used to received loans from Braitain and after the revolution we used to get white loans but now the loans break our backs

Are you enthusiastic about planting cotton ?
Not currently

Why not?
Because we don't receive support and we live out of the land's income and we can not afford to plant a crop that would not yield much

What do you ask for from the concerned authorities?
We want to be supported like in the past because the loans today are not enough and we can't pay them
Finally, concluding this investigative report, we take this report as an eye opener and hope that cotton does not extinct from our lands and that the authorities would do something to revive the old glory of Abyan Cotton.