EDITORIAL COMMENT

Cotton

Cotton

Govt intervention boosts cotton output

THE national cotton crop is expected to register substantial growth this year from 30 million kilogrammes produced last year, the lowest output since 1992, to over 100 million kg.This growth is largely attributed to Government’s support programme that has seen cotton farmers receiving free inputs under the Presidential Input Scheme as well as the good rains the country has received so far.

The three-year free input programme —which started last year and will end in 2018 — is meant to revive the cotton industry by motivating farmers to return to cotton growing, which they had abandoned due to viability challenges.

The challenges, stemming from poor agronomy support, side marketing and poor funding, saw thousands of farmers, largely smallholders, abandoning cotton in favour of tobacco and other cash crops.

Cotton used to support over 400 000 households and production peaked at 352 million kilogrammes in 2012. The inputs subsidy has gone a long way in improving the overall viability of farmers. Elsewhere, major producing countries in Asia and America provide huge subsidies to farmers.

The good rains coupled with complementary warm to hot mid-season conditions will hopefully improve yields and quality.

The outreach programmes recently undertaken by The Herald found that almost every household in major cotton producing areas such as Gokwe, Muzarabani, Mutoko and Nembudziya have an established crop and the majority of cotton growers are hopeful of a bumper harvest.

Each household is receiving inputs including seed, fertilisers and chemicals enough to cover two hectares under this year’s $42 million Presidential Input Scheme.

But some have planted more that two hectares using seed left over from last season while a few bought seed using own resources. Thus the 110 million kg expected cotton output could be exceeded as the estimates were based on seed distributed this season.

Evidence is abound.

There is now a mismatch between supply of inputs, particularly top dressing fertilisers and chemicals and demand, because the hectarage planted is much bigger than the projected hectarage.

Farmers have expressed satisfaction with the Government’s support and are confident of good yields, with potential to transform poor rural communities into commercially thriving communities.

To safeguard the scheme, which will also be rolled out next year, the Government needs to ensure there is enough funding to buy the crop and pay farmers on time, otherwise the bulk of the crop could be lost through side marketing. Government has already indicated it will pay in excess of 45c per kilogramme.

Failure to mobilise adequate resources to purchase the crop could see private companies, which have provided inadequate financing to support farmers, taking advantage of the situation to entice farmers to side market their crop. Loaded with huge social burdens, farmers would naturally be tempted to sell the crop to alternative buyers.

Any news of Government failing to pay spot cash will certainly be disastrous as the fly-by-night companies/buyers will grab the opportunity and wipe out the crop largely financed by the Government.

Last season, the crop funded by the Government was meant to be purchased exclusively by the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which has now been taken over by the State.

Instead, Cottco only bought 10 million kg from a total of 30 million kg. The bulk of the crop was purchased by private players.

Admittedly, there are legal instruments meant to curb side marketing. But huge challenges remain with regards to regulatory enforcement due to resource constraints, among other issues.

It is therefore critical that complementary policies, which will involve all stakeholders, including the leadership in farming communities, be put in place to ensure the crop is delivered to rightful financiers.

It must be noted that side marketing resulted in the drying up of funding from genuine private sector players. In the absence of funding, yields literally disappeared as a result of inadequate farmer training and the dearth of inputs. There is clearly a need for changes to be effected in the regulatory space.

As it is, the Government has created a solid ground for the recovery of the cotton sector. The three-year free input programme, which ends next season, should help farmers to be self-reliant.

Article Source: The Herald