Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
IT’s a cloudy Wednesday morning in Ward 20, under Headman Ndhlalambi, Chief Nemangwe in Gokwe South District and more than 100 villagers are gathered to receive the Presidential Cotton Inputs.
The villagers are part of at least 520 000 households in marginalised areas who are receiving cotton inputs under the climate-proofed Pfumvudza/ Intwasa agricultural cotton scheme aimed at increasing production.
Mr Nathan Mangena (56), a cotton farmer for the past 20 years is among the beneficiaries who, besides the negative impact of drought and late rainfall in the country, have remained steadfast in growing the crop.
Cotton, the second most important cash crop in Zimbabwe, is grown by thousands of smallholder farmers on average plot sizes of about one hectare in the summer rainfall growing season (November to April).
It is grown in regions that are hot and receive rainfall of between 400mm and 600mm per annum.
Gokwe North and South in Midlands province and Sanyati and Hurungwe in Mashonaland West province as well as Mt Darwin and Muzarabani in Mashonaland Central province are renowned cotton-producing areas that have recorded phenomenal infrastructural development from earnings of the crop.
Mr Mangena said he is one of the cotton farmers who have been able to support their families from the “white gold” as the crop is popularly known.
“I’m here to collect the Presidential Cotton Inputs together with other villagers from the Nemangwe area in Gokwe South District. The sky, as you can see, is showing signs that it might rain and therefore the need for me to get home as soon as possible,” said the excited farmer.
He said cotton was once a lucrative crop for the farmers in Gokwe District and many other parts of the country.
But in recent years, Mr Mangena said cotton has not yielded many returns for the farmers.
“Climate change is affecting weather patterns. Last year, there were late rains which caused the crop to wilt. The other year, there was a drought and that affected the profitability of the crop,” he said.
Mr Mangena said from Gokwe North to South, cotton is a primary livelihood source that has been affected by a changing climate that limits production.
“Cotton requires conducive weather conditions for it to successfully grow and unfortunately the last season was not conducive as we received late rains which found some crops already wilted and also destroyed most of the cotton plants,” he said.
Mr Mangena said in 2014, he yielded 40 bales of cotton, each weighing 250 kilogrammes but only managed 12 bales last season.
“When production is affected, it also affects returns. With each passing season, it seems like I’m getting fewer returns from the crop which is sad. At least I’ve managed to build a house and send my children to school but I still have plans of becoming a businessman,” he said.
Cotton production in Zimbabwe declined to an all-time low of 32 000 tonnes in 2016 from 84 000 tonnes in 2015, and 143 000 tonnes in 2014 after a decade-long spell of perceived low prices averaging US$0,30 per kilogramme.
The entire cotton industry value chain collapsed in a development that heralded doom for Gokwe North and South communities where the crop is grown.
As part of improving earnings in rural areas, the Second Republic is providing subsidies to farmers through the climate-proofed Pfumvudza/ Intwasa agricultural cotton scheme aimed at increasing production.
“We’re grateful to the Government for availing the cotton inputs on time. These are aimed at upscaling cotton production in the district. If we increase cotton production it means we increase cotton earnings and improve our livelihoods,” said Chief Nemangwe of Nemangwe area.
He said villagers were committed to cotton farming as evidenced by the increase in the numbers of villagers given farming inputs.
In 2018 and 2019, after Cyclone Idai ravaged the country, production slid back to 76 000 metric tons of seed cotton
In the 2020/2021 season, there were late rains that destroyed the crop in a development that saw farmers counting their losses.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll receive enough rainfall; not too much and not too late as was the case this past season which led to the destruction of cotton crops,” said Chief Nemangwe.
A former Cotton Marketing Board (CMB) depot in the Nemangwe area is also a pale shadow of itself.
Villagers would bring their cotton for grading at CMB which saw the growth of the area.
At Mutora Growth Point in Gokwe North, there used to be a base for Cargill which used to be a contractor for the cotton farmers.
Chief Chireya said CMB and Mutora areas were the epitome of cotton production in Gokwe North and South.
“When cotton farming was at its peak, CMB and Mutora areas used to attract a lot of people and that led to the growth of these areas. We would have beautiful roads linking to these areas but over the years, they have not been rehabilitated because cotton has not been performing very well,” he said.
Chief Chireya said he hoped that Government intervention through the distribution of cotton inputs and enough rainfall would result in a boom in cotton production and in turn result in the development of the districts.
The Government adopted climate-proofing agricultural practices for cotton production in the 2021/2022 cropping season to increase production levels.
Zimbabwean hand-picked cotton is in demand across the world.
The country’s cotton deliveries increased by 39 percent to 114 656 tonnes towards the end of the buying season of 2021 from 2020 total output of 82 479 tonnes.
Gokwe South District agriculture extension officer Mr Simon Gumindoga said registered farmers for the 2022/2023 season as of Monday this week are 27 971.
He said they were expecting over 56 000 farmers by the end of the month.
“Farmers are receiving inputs from both the Government and other contractors such as Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, Southern Cotton Alliance and Zimbabwe Cotton Consortium,” said Mr Gumindoga.
He said there is an increase in cotton farming this season thanks to the Presidential Cotton Input Programme.
“Disbursement of inputs is still in progress and registration is ongoing. We’re still at 60 percent registration of farmers,” said Mr Gumindoga.
Gokwe Town, which has a population of over 33 000 people, has also been a beneficiary of cotton production according to acting town secretary, Mr Alexander Nyandoro.
“Cotton is a driver of economic development and is of critical importance to the economy and growth of Gokwe Town. Cotton production creates employment for the locals, contributes to the growth of the town through the ginnery, and contributes to the growth of domestic product of the town,” he said.
Mr Nyandoro said cotton marketing has bolstered infrastructural development.
“The focus for Gokwe Town is now on the cotton value chain. Currently, Cottco has a ginnery here and cotton is being processed to lint level,” he said.
Mr Nyandoro said about 90 percent of the lint produced in Zimbabwe is exported.
Production of cotton farming is a major economic enabler for Gokwe North and South districts.
Cotton production is strongly influenced by the availability of rainfall and changes in the seasonal precipitation pattern which affects farmers significantly.
Cotton farmers are highly vulnerable to climate change, especially to declining or too much rainfall.