The fining of those who side market cotton is not enough to deter the practice, with jail being a better option, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Dr Anxious Masuka has said.
Speaking during the launch of the 2023 cotton marketing season in Mahuwe on Monday, Dr Masuka said individuals or companies engaged in the side marketing of cotton should be liable to imprisonment, as the Government moved to protect one of the country’s foreign currency earners and source of livelihood for many Zimbabweans.
“Last year, seven side marketing breaches were recorded with the culprits being fined over US$10 000,” he said.
“In terms of the deterrent measures, we must go beyond this and make side marketing a criminal offense. Jail is the only effective way to curb this practice.”
Side-marketing is a form of contract default where a contracted cotton grower sells his or her crop to a third party in breach of a legally binding contractual agreement which states that contracted cotton shall only be sold to or bought by the licensed contractor who provided inputs to such a grower.
“My ministry, through the Agricultural Marketing Authority, continues to implement measures to curb side marketing,” said Dr Masuka.
“These include the Memorandum of Agreement by all contractors for the establishment of cotton buying points, maintenance of good business practices and registers of each contractor at each buying point.
“Last year, seven side marketing breaches were recorded with the culprits being fined over US$10 000. In terms of the deterrent measures, we must go beyond this and make side marketing a criminal offense. Jail is the only effective way to curb this practice.”
Side marketing almost collapsed the cotton industry in 2013 after private merchants stopped financing farmers due to poor debt recovery.
In 2014, output dropped to 28 000 tonnes, the lowest in nearly two decades.
The Government intervened by providing farmers with free inputs under the scheme known as Presidential Free Inputs programme.
Dr Masuka emphasised that farmers should get a decent return and timely payment for their commodity.
Unlike the previous seasons when some farmers were not paid on time; growers were receiving their payments upon delivery of their crop this season.
Dr Masuka urged farmers to increase hectares in cotton farming.
Government wants more ginneries and oil expressing plants nearer farmers, and a third spinning company to take up more of the lint to ensure value addition in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).
He said in August, they were targeting to install machineries to process cotton seeds into cooking oil in cotton growing areas such as Gokwe, Checheche and Mahuwe.
Nearly 350 000 farmers were contracted to grow cotton under the Presidential Inputs Scheme last year and planted about 250 000 hectares and 152 000 tonnes are expected this season.
Running for the eighth straight season, the State-assisted scheme has seen cotton production recovering.
More than 360 000 farmers benefited from free inputs under the scheme, running for eight consecutive years.
Under the scheme, farmers get free basal and top dressing fertiliser, seed as well as chemicals. The State-assisted scheme has seen an average of 300 000 households receiving free inputs.
Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Senator Monica Mavhunga said Government’s effort to drill boreholes and dam construction has helped a lot to improve people’s livelihoods.
“We are happy that here in Mbire , Government is constructing Dande Dam, Bindura Dam and Semwa Dam. All these efforts will help to upgrade people’s standards of living. We are also grateful of the Pfumvudza programme. That’s why last season we made an improvement in farming programmes compared to the other seasons,” she said.
Agriculture Marketing Authority (AMA) chief executive Mr Clever Isaya said it was critical for farmers to grow crops according to their ecological regions, adding that this will help to improve productivity levels.
He said that side marketing should not be tolerated this season adding that grade A will be costing $0,46c per kg.
This season farmers will be paid 85 percent in foreign currency and 15 percent will be paid in local currency on the prevailing rate on the day of payment.
Six contracted companies have registered to grow cotton this year.
“We have 300 000 cotton growers we have registered this season,” Mr Isaya.
“This number has significantly gone down compared to the previous season. We have 616 points of cotton buying countrywide. AMA workers will be verifying the processes and also making sure that they are selling their crop to the correct contractors who helped them with inputs.”
Apart from free inputs, farmers also receive tillage services and agronomy support.
The scheme helped to fill in the gap left by private contractors who scaled down funding citing poor recoveries due to side marketing. The scheme has helped to revive the cotton industry, a major source of employment for rural farmers.
Farmers who spoke to The Herald in Mbire district in Mahuwe area said they were happy with cotton prices, adding that the Government’s efforts to provide free inputs was greatly appreciated.
Mr Never Kahondo of Zhangumwa village said timeous payments and the increase of foreign currency retention was a big motivator in cotton farming, adding that this season he was aiming higher than the previous seasons.
“Government is doing well in remembering farmers in rural areas. This season l want to increase the hectares. I sold 20 bales so far and I was given all my money, no later payments. I am grateful, we were given all inputs including chemicals for spraying,’’ he said.
Mr Shuma Matope of Pabandi village in Mahuwe applauded the Government for interfering to ensure that they were paid on time.
“Prices are fair,” he said. “I was given all my money. Seeds, fertilisers and other inputs l received them for free. All what is needed is my hands to process planting and harvesting. This is my first time to be given cash just after delivery.
“We applaud our Government for making life easier to the farmers.”
At peak, Zimbabwe produced 351 000 tonnes of cotton in the 2010/11 season and the Government has since set a target to raise production to 300 000 tonnes by 2025.
Zimbabwe mainly uses open-pollinated varieties but indications are that production could go up to as much as 600 000 tonnes with the use of hybrid seeds.