Heavy rains seen slashing Uganda 2019/2020 cotton crop by a third

KAMPALA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Heavy rains that pummelled Uganda and the wider east African region in the third quarter of last year are expected to cut the country’s 2019/2020 cotton output by a third, state-run sector regulator Cotton Development Organisation (CDO) said on Monday.

Cotton is one of Uganda’s major cash crops alongside coffee and tea and is an important source of foreign exchange.

Uganda is expected to produce about 200,000 bales of cotton in the 2019/20 (June-July) season from an earlier production estimate of 300,000, said Douglas Bhosopo, a senior official at CDO.

In Uganda, the intense, relentless rains which started around late August, triggered widespread flooding, landslides and displacement of tens of thousands of people.

As the crop flowered, the rains made the soils over-moisturised, making it difficult for the plants to extract nutrients, Bhosopo told Reuters.

“The rooting system cannot extract nutrients because there’s so much moisture...the (cotton) bolls become small because the plant cannot sustain the flowers,” he said.

“(Also) when its raining ceaselessly and the skies are overcast...the skin of the bolls remains very soft and it becomes easy for pests to pierce it.”

Uganda’s cotton is mostly grown by small-holder farmers in the country’s east and northern regions and is highly favoured for its organic quality.

Uganda was once a major African producer of the fibre but the sector declined sharply on the back of a mixture of political upheaval, competition from food crops and government neglect.

Lint production on the continent is now dominated by the likes of Burkina Faso, Benin and Chad.

The country exports nearly all of her cotton as local ginning capacity is limited. The ceaseless rains also means it was difficult to spray the crops to ward off pests and diseases.

“When you spray and then rainfall follows immediately the chemicals are washed down before they have any effect,” Bhosopo said.

The extremely wet conditions also allowed weeds to grow fast and become taller than the cotton plants, chocking off much-needed aeration around them.

In recent years, the Ugandan government has been handing out free seedlings to farmers to expand their acreage, and help boost the country’s overall annual output to a target of about 500,000 bales. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Omar Mohammed and Shailesh Kuber)