Martin Kadzere, Harare Bureau
ZIMBABWE’S cotton output is set for a major rebound this year after farmers planted more hectarage following Government’s increased funding.
The yields are also projected to rise on good rains being received in most parts of the country. This season, the Government, under the Presidential
Input Scheme is supporting cotton growers with inputs worth more than $40 million to revive the industry.
The programme, being administered by The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe and funded by the RBZ has lured back thousands of cotton farmers who had switched to other cash crops citing inadequate agronomy support and poor producer prices.
The cotton crop was severely impacted by drought last season, resulting in production falling to about 30 000 tonnes, a record output decline in more than two decades. The poor production was also compounded by late disbursements of inputs.
Last week, our Harare Bureau visited Gokwe, one of the largest cotton producing districts in Zimbabwe. Based on the established crop, output from the district is likely to surpass 16 000 tonnes, over half of the total national production achieved last season.
“The season is very promising; every household has planted the crop unlike last season when we had isolated cotton fields,” Cottco area manager for Nemangwe Mr Crispen Gwauya said.
The number of farmers in the district has doubled to 12 000 from last season while the hectarage has also expanded.
“As you can see, the crop condition is good. We are now giving farmers some chemicals and fertilisers to ensure good yields,” said Nemangwe extension officer Mr Tichaona Mamutse.
The Government programme has virtually crowded out private merchants, whose input support programmes have been described by farmers as “extensively exploitative”.
At some point, the crop was referred to as “white gold” in apparent reference to handsome profits obtained by the farmers. However, the opening up of the cotton sector to new players was the death knell for Zimbabwean cotton. From being one of global cotton’s top quality producer the sector had virtually collapsed. The success of cotton in Zimbabwe was built around the Cottco inputs credit scheme which started in 1992 and ensured that farmers received adequate funding and quality incentives.
“Many farmers had given up because of the exploitative tendencies by errant merchants. The merchants would provide few inputs and then offer ridiculous prices, which left farmers without anything. Essentially, farmers were providing unpaid labour and this programme has come as a huge relief,” farmer, Mr Givemore Kanganga said.
To curb the abuse of inputs, Cottco has put in place strict control measures, including engaging local leaders such as traditional chiefs to ensure the inputs are put to good use. Each household is receiving inputs enough for an average of 2,5 hectares.
“As local leaders, we are happy with the distribution of inputs. Farmers had surrendered but this year, every household has planted cotton. We are sure of a good harvest,” said Chief Nemangwe. “We are working with Cottco and all other stakeholders such as law enforcement agents to ensure that there is no abuse of inputs.
“We will also work with them to ensure there is no side marketing come the next selling season.”
Chief Goredema, however appealed to Cottco to re-open some of the closed selling points in anticipation of high yields.
The selling points were closed following decline in production.
“Bringing selling points closer to farmers will also reduce potential cases of side marketing.”
Chief Goredema said while the distribution of inputs was satisfactory, the authorities should expedite disbursements of chemicals as the crop was now at a critical stage.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for Gokwe-Mapfungautsi constituency Miriam Makweya has vowed to fight side marketing during the selling season.
“There are no companies that have provided us with inputs and we are going to ensure that no company is allowed to buy the crop financed by the President,” she said in an interview.
“As local leaders, we will do everything within our capacity to ensure that the crop is bought by Cottco.”