MONEYWEB: A cotton industry revival

Big retailers commit to orders, spurring development

The demise of the cotton industry along with the rest of the South African textile industry as a result of cheap imports from the East has been well documented.

In the late 1980s the country produced about 80 000 tons of cotton fibre, but in 2013 it was only 5 200 tons.

The turnaround has however started and is gathering momentum, with an output of 17 000 tons this year, and 40 000 tons projected for next year. Local beneficiation has grown from 7% in 2013 to 42% currently.

The turnaround already benefits the whole supply chain from farmer – some small-scale and some commercial – to retailers like the Mr Price Group, Woolworths, Ackermans, and Edcon.

It is a direct result of the Department of Trade and Industry’s (dti) Clothing & Textiles Competitiveness Programme (CTCP) that was developed in response to the crisis that cost the industry 101 000 jobs between 2002 and 2010.

It started in 2013 when the dti approved a plan, submitted on behalf of Cotton SA, to fund an industry forum representing role players in the land based textile industry, says Heinrich Schultz, spokesperson of the Sustainable Cotton Cluster as this forum is now known.

The Sustainable Cotton Cluster is a multi-stakeholder initiative, and the first cluster in the SA textile industry that is operating nationally.

The aim of the Cluster is to create an enabling environment along the whole supply chain for the entire industry to grow.

To that end, the stakeholders include suppliers of agricultural inputs, small-scale as well as commercial farmers, agro-processors, textile and clothing manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

The manufacturing phase includes ginning and spinning to process the cotton fibre to yarn, then knitting or weaving to produce fabrics, then dying, printing and cut, make and trim to finish the product.

The success so far is the result of a number of interventions at different stages of the supply chain, says Schultz. In one such intervention, the Cluster researched and demonstrated cotton stripper harvester technology to farmers to improve dry-land cotton production yields. This enabled the revival of dry-land commercial cotton farming, which used to be the backbone of cotton production in the 1980s, but became all but non-existent due to the high cost of harvesting.

Other interventions include the innovation of business processes to ensure the industry continuously improves its competitiveness, the introduction of a cloud-based IT platform to ensure traceability of the product and the development of financing and insurance products.

Each intervention is contracted with clearly defined key performance indicators. The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) manages the financing for these Cluster interventions on behalf of the dti.

One of the Cluster’s key successes is that it is able to obtain a legal commitment from the retailer to purchase the cotton fibre 12 to 18 months in advance. On the basis of these retailer commitments, the whole supply chain is contracted right back to the farmer, who has a buyer for his product before he has planted or completed his harvest.

This legal commitment unlocks new financing options, especially for small-scale farmers who do not own the land they cultivate, Schultz says.

It works as follows: The farmer plants his cotton around October/November. During this period or in the preceding months, the retailer issues his promissory note, which is his legal commitment to buy the end-product and confirms the quantity of cotton needed.

The cotton is harvested in April and the ginning process follows from May. Spinning takes place from June and July typically follows with the knitting and weaving processes. By August and September, the final product is manufactured and in October it should be in the retailer’s distribution centre.

The full cycle takes 12 to 18 months, which means the Cluster is able to integrate retailers’ 18-month trend forecasting into the supply chain. The Cluster develops the integrated supply chain plan for the retailer and ensures costing at every stage in order to ensure a competitive price point.

The Cluster has so far concluded 11 such integrated supply chain programmes and has contracts with the Mr Price Group, Ackermans, Woolworths and Edcon.

Each programme is ring-fenced to ensure the retailer’s confidentiality.

The product range includes underwear, sleepwear, general knitwear; including T-shirts, toweling and jeans and chinos.

In fact, if all the cotton currently in the supply chain is expressed in T-shirts, the industry is now producing R2.4 billion worth of T-shirts per annum and the target by 2018 is to produce R4.2 billion per annum.

Schultz says the market potential in South Africa is 300 000 tons of cotton, compared to the 17 000-ton fibre production this year. Cotton supply chains can later be expanded into the region, he says.

He says cotton is a known cash crop for small-scale farmers. It is drought resistant and serves as a valuable nitrogen-fixer in crop rotation. In fact, in commercial production the maize and wheat yield increase by about 10% if it is preceded by planting cotton, he says.

It is therefore one of the Cluster’s objectives to stimulate cotton production among small-scale farmers.

The early legal commitment of retailers has unlocked off-balance sheet financing for farmers and other stakeholders in the supply chain.

Schultz says while traditional financial institutions initially gave “the glazed doughnut look” when we asked for off-balance sheet financing, the Gro-Capital division of Afgri made a revolving facility available that currently stands at R25 million, but will total R75 million over five years.

The Cluster facilitates the financing agreements and has also developed insurance products with underwriters such as Swiss RE and Guard Risk to mitigate the finance risk.

The Cluster has also facilitated the financing of the investment in new capacity at one of the gins to accommodate the growing harvest.

The four spinning plants (down from 22 in 2000) are currently operating at almost full capacity and represents the biggest industry bottleneck, Schultz says. The Cluster is currently investigating options to address the expansion of spinning capacity.

“If only 50% of the T-shirt, towelling, chino and underwear market is localised, there will be an interim capacity gap, but with the potential to create 75 000 jobs,” he says.

The current five-year agreement with the dti Cluster funding continues until March 2019, but indications are that it could be extended for a further five years.

Source: Moneyweb, Antoinette Slabbert, 9 November 2017

South African maize crop 2017/18

By now it is widely known that South Africa delivered a bumper maize and soya bean crop this season. Some farmers are still harvesting, but we have already seen new record yields being reported. The latest reported delivery figures up to the 25th of August 2017 as reported by SAGIS put this into perspective: a total of 14,109 million tonnes of white and yellow maize have already been delivered against a total of 16,413 million tonnes expected.

As can be seen in the graph below, this is well above the five-year average of approximately 10 million tonnes.

To earn foreign capital and support local maize prices for sustainable maize production, South Africa needs to export as much as possible of the approximately 4,5 million tonnes surplus.

According to SAGIS, up until the 25th of August, a total of 1,103 million tonnes had been exported, keeping in mind that the marketing season only ends on the 30th of April 2018. To date the biggest export destination for white maize has been Kenya (56%), followed by Botswana (21%). Yellow maize destinations include Japan (49%), Taiwan (29%) and South Korea ( 15%).

Prices should remain suppressed close to export parity with the Dollar/Rand exchange rate and CME corn prices playing a major role in price direction.

SA COTTON INDUSTRY: OUTLOOK

Although the cotton industry in South Africa has been on the path to recovery for the past few years, GroCapital’s involvement started in 2015 when it financed Organimark (Pty) Ltd, which plays a critical role in linking producers with manufacturers through the Sustainable Cotton Cluster (SCC). The cluster is an initiative of Cotton SA, Government and like-minded cotton industry value chain stakeholders, aiming to create an enabling environment for cotton producers and manufacturers to supply local and international customers with fully traceable and sustainable cotton products.

This revival of the industry has also brought about improved transparencies in the value chain from farmer to garment retailer. Most importantly though, it has enabled price stability and increased local offtake, which in turn has fueled production and processing efficiencies throughout the value chain. An example is the recently-introduced Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Assurance Programme, enabling traceability from garment to the farm of origin.

Growth is further evident in the increased number of hectares being planted, as well as the drive towards improved technologies, especially in the harvesting, hauling and transport nodes of the value chain. The 2016/17 season is projected to yield the biggest seed cotton crop since 2004/5 at 18 599 hectares planted. This represents, respectively, an increase of 19% in irrigated hectares and a mammoth 364% increase in dryland hectares compared to the 2015/16 season, and will result in a 64% increase in lint bales from the previous season.

Production under irrigation has been stable at 4 – 5 tons / ha while dryland yields have almost doubled to 1 ton / ha. It should be noted though that dryland yields are much more prone to drought conditions as this cotton is purely rain-fed.

Local lint prices have benefitted from the above dynamics over the past few years, increasing from about R16.50/kg in January 2015 to R23,27/kg as at 1 August 2017.

Cotton seed as a by-product of ginning is also stretching beyond conventional uses, such as oilcake in animal feeds and seed oil in various commercial products, with the seed oil now being considered as an alternate renewable fuel source. And although commercial viability was not included, a recent study revealed that unrefined cottonseed oil is indeed a feasible source of kerosene/paraffin, offering an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels.

Thus, the strategic positioning of GroCapital as a credit provider to the cotton cluster places it at the forefront of the ever-expanding future potential of the cotton industry in South Africa.