Zimbabwe’s cotton industry is regaining momentum with farmers, particularly in areas that had long abandoned the crop, slowly returning to production of the “white gold.” Through the Presidential Input Scheme, which helps farmers with free inputs, areas that had stopped growing cotton have resumed production. The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which is administering the programme, is expanding the scheme to also include farmers in non-traditional cotton growing areas and those that had stopped production. Cottco has already launched the programme in Matabeleland.
It is targeting to support at least 20 000 farmers in Matabeleland North and South Provinces. Traditionally, cotton was largely grown in Gokwe, Muzarabani and the Lowveld. The expansion of the free inputs programme follows a successful season, which saw cotton production financed under the scheme growing by more than 400 percent to 55 000 tonnes. A recent visit to areas in Masholanaland East and Manicaland Provinces, showed that thousands of farmers were benefiting from the programme, now running for a third consecutive year.
“We had been farming cotton since 1974, but it became unavailable after liberalisation of the industry, as farmers opted for other farming activities deemed to be profitable while many people depended on the crop to raise families, nobody was still interested in the crop until the launch of this free inputs programme,” said Clifford Ndekwere, a 20 hectare plot holder in Zviyambi area in the Hwedza South constituency.
Privatisation of the cotton sector was part of the International Monetary Fund measures under Esap, designed to enhance competitiveness in the sector. This year, the Government will spend $60 million on cotton inputs — more than double what was spent two seasons ago. About 400 000 households are expected to benefit. Simon Gondo, a headman in Murambinda said the cotton free input programme had been well received.
“We used to grow the crop but at a much smaller scale but we stopped because the crop had become too costly to produce. The programme has seen many farmers taking up production again. It started last year, but the interest has significantly grown. We also have new farmers and they are even prepared to plant bigger hactarage,” said Gondo. With many people taking to cotton production for the first time, Cottco has intensified awareness programmes to equip farmers with good farming practices.
“Some farmers have also been put into groups led by farmers with knowledge of cotton farming. We have people who came from traditional cotton farming areas and are helping farmers (with Cotton extension officers) taking production for the first time,” he added. Peter Musarurwa, 60, expressed satisfaction with the disbursement of the inputs, saying: “There is much improvement from last year. This will help us to plant on time.” Farmers from Dorowa said they were taking production for the first time and were hopeful of good yields.
“There is nothing that will stop us from getting good harvest because we are getting free fertilisers and seed. We are also regularly receiving training from Cottco and we are confident that this will help us achieve good yields,” said Shadrek Taona. Under Cottco’s Buhera District, about 6 000 farmers have registered and the company is targeting 10 000 farmers. Federation of Farmers Union chairman Mr Wonder Chabikwa said Zimbabwe had the greatest comparative climatic conditions suitable for cotton farming.
“The areas that Cottco is targeting are suitable for cotton production but farmers had abandoned production due to lack of funding after Government liberalised the industry. Now that the 100 percent input subsidy has spurred activity, we would want to applaud farmers for taking positive response to this Government initiative,” said Mr Chabikwa.