Better prices, incentives lure cotton farmers

Farmers in Lusulu in the Matabeleland North Province intend to put more land under the cotton crop this year on the back of better prices and related incentives they received.

As such, the farmers are appealing for more inputs under the Presidential Free Inputs Support Scheme being administered by The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) so that they can plant bigger hectarage.

Lusulu area has good weather conditions suitable for cotton production.

Since the crop was introduced in the area, output gradually expanded as more and more farmers took up production of the crop, which has become one of the major sources of livelihood for several families.

However, in 2013 and for the next three or so seasons, farmers ditched cotton farming due to a combination of low prices, poor funding by merchants and scepticism of the Presidential Inputs Scheme.

Many feared they would be left with little income from the sale of their commodity after loan recoveries, which is part of the reasons they abandoned the crop in the first place.

Following a vigorous campaign by Cottco, farmers now have a better appreciation of the State-sponsored cotton inputs scheme and uptake of its production has increased over the past three years.

Before the introduction of the Presidential Inputs Scheme in 2015, contract schemes by some companies appeared exploitative in that growers had been reduced to mere labourers as the bulk of the proceeds went towards loan repayment.

Farmers who spoke to this publication said incentives such as free tillage, free inputs and groceries, which farmers are receiving as part payment for their crop has boosted the appetite for farmers to expand hectarage.

The Presidential Inputs Scheme has been described as a critical tool for social development as it has enhanced capabilities of many people, particularly in the marginalised areas to have access to basic social needs such as education and health.

“Cotton farming is now profitable and it is my wish to have more inputs so that I can produce more,” said Ms Linnet Nkatazo, (35), who planted two hectares last year.

“The incentives are quite attractive. I got all basic commodities at very low price. Imagine how much I would have to spend if I was buying groceries from Hwange or Bulawayo. In addition, I will still be left with money for other household essentials.”

This season, Cottco came up with a voluntary scheme to alternatively pay farmers in the form of basic goods and productive assets such as commercial vehicles and grinding mills. Observers have described this approach as an empowerment tool, which would ensure constant generation of income during the off season.

“In addition to free inputs, we would like to applaud Cottco for the tillage programme, which is already ongoing. Some of us do not have cattle (for drought power).

“I am quite motivated to plant even as much as 15ha,” said Mr Enoch Sibanda, who planted 2ha last year.

With the conservative tillage programme, another farmer Ms Abigail Songoya is optimistic about prospects for a better yield.

Conservation tillage is a generic term that covers systems that reduce loss of soil and water compared with conventional methods. Droughts associated with climate change have seen southern Africa experiencing severe droughts over the past few years, hurting production and threatening food security.

This year, cotton production is estimated at 101 000 tonnes, an increase of 32 percent from the 77 000 tonnes produced last year, according to the Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment Report. This was due to increased coverage of the Presidential Inputs Scheme. The scheme was introduced in 2015 after Government moved in to revive cotton industry. After peaking at 352 000 tonnes in 2011, output declined to 28 000 tonnes three years later, the lowest yield in nearly two decades partly due to lack of adequate funding and poor prices.

With the coming in of the Presidential Inputs Scheme, coupled with renewed interest by private players to finance the crop, who last year financed about 30 percent of production, the sector has recorded a significant recovery. In light of climate change, some farmers are also increasing acreage as the crop is generally less waster intensive.–

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