Cotton Farming and Covid-19: On the Ground in China


Published Friday, May 15th, 2020

In our new Q&A series, we interview BCI Implementing Partners (on-the-ground partners in charge of delivering the BCI Programme) who are supporting BCI Farmers and farming communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first Q&A, we speak with partners in India: On-The-Ground in India.  Next up, we speak with partners in China.

CottonConnect

How is CottonConnect supporting cotton farmers through this challenging time?

During the lockdown period, many cotton farmers shared uncertainties about planting cotton this season. We organised additional training sessions for BCI Field Facilitators (teachers employed by Implementing Partners who deliver on-the-ground training to BCI Farmers) to ensure they could still safely deliver support to cotton farmers, as well as ensuring farmers had access to information about Covid-19 and the domestic cotton market.

Due to the impact of the pandemic, in-person farmer training sessions have been restricted, and we are now employing innovative training methods instead. For example, we have produced a video of cotton planting techniques, sharing it with farmers via WeChat, so that cotton farmers can still access up-to-date sustainable agricultural support from their homes.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected cotton farmers directly?

The domestic cotton market price is very unstable. Because of the pandemic, cotton prices in China dropped rapidly. Some cotton farmers have still not sold the cotton they grew last season – the market price is low so the cotton farmers are not willing to sell their cotton (they’d rather hold on to it until the price is better), and therefore the ginners cannot buy the cotton. Farmers are concerned that the price for cotton will remain low when they come to sell their 2020 cotton harvests later this year.

In addition, young people in many farming families cannot go out to work in the cities at the moment, and they are worried about whether they will be able to find a job after the pandemic. All of these challenges will have an impact on household income.

 

Songzi City Agriculture Technology Promotion Center

The Covid-19 pandemic has largely been contained in China. Are there any short-term impacts to cotton farmers because of pandemic, or is it business as usual for Chinese cotton farmers?

The pandemic has had little effect on cotton farming itself, but the market downturn caused by Covid-19 has affected the market price of cotton. Cotton farming can be carried out as normal now, but as a result of the pandemic, opportunities for farmers to gain additional work outside rural areas has decreased, and the lockdown affected the sales of winter vegetables and the preparation of spring vegetables, which all has a knock-on impact on household income.

At the same time, some young people are staying in their rural homes for now because they no longer have work in the cities, so there is an opportunity for them to experience agricultural production.

Why do cotton farmers especially need support from Songzi City Agriculture Technology Promotion Center and BCI during this time?

During the pandemic, we continued to share cotton market information with cotton farmers and workers to raise awareness of infection prevention measures within farming communities. At the same time, we shared information about the schools in areas where BCI Programmes exist with social welfare organisations who then reached out to the schools to donate face masks and sanitiser.

 

Shandong Binzhou Nongxi Cotton Professional Cooperative

What are BCI Farmers doing to keep themselves and their families safe from potential future outbreaks of Covid-19?

The farmers are still avoiding gatherings of more than a few people. They are avoiding going out unless absolutely necessary, and they are all wearing face masks when they do go out. Everyone continues to wash their hands and disinfect their home frequently.

In China, the cotton season is well underway. What challenges are cotton farmers facing in the lead-up to the cotton harvest season?

On-site visits, group learning sessions and face-to-face farmer trainings have been affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a challenge because many smallholder cotton farmers in China are an ageing population and have little education. Online training, learning, and guidance materials are great for some farmers, but they are not effective methods for reaching out to older farmers – many prefer face-to-face communication and hands-on learning. So, we must continue to explore new, innovative ways to reach people so we can ensure that no cotton farmers are left behind on their journey to grow cotton more sustainably.

The slump in the textile industry and the low price of cotton has also affected the enthusiasm of cotton farmers. They are all worried about reduced income.