Cotton farmers in Muzarabani District, Mashonaland Central Province, have implored the Government to increase assistance with regard to the tillage programme to enable them to complement output under the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme.
Some cotton farmers in one of the major cotton growing area said the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme had forced them to reduce hectarage due to the physicality of work that goes into digging planting holes.
The farmers claim wider spacing of planting holes means they now need larger hectarage to produce more, which becomes difficult given that the practice is labour intensive, since the holes are dug manually.
The Government launched the programme for cotton last year in a bid to boost farm yields in light of the unpredictable weather conditions resulting from adverse effects of climate change.
The concept has been credited for boosting maize production in Zimbabwe, which reached 2,8 million tonnes in 2021, up from 900 000 tonnes a year earlier.
However, cotton farmers say the Pfumvudza concept may not be the best for cotton after they were forced to reduce the hectarage, which will in turn negatively lower the yields.
Previously, farmers planted bigger hectarage using ox drawn ploughs, but the mulching applied under Pfumvudza/Intwasa requires them to use hand tools to dig the holes.
Cotton is one of Zimbabwe’s cash crops and is mainly grown by small holder farmers.
“The way we plant in terms of hole spacing reduces the hectarage by almost four times,” Mr Stallion Viega, a 40-year-old Muzarabani cotton farmer said.
“So, one needs four Pfumvudza plots (measuring a quarter of a hectare) to achieve an average yield of between eight and 10 bales per hectare when using traditional farming methods,” said another farmer, Gibson Kazunguza, who farms in the Mahuwe area, Muzarabani. .
Instead, farmers said Government, through Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which administers the Presidential Inputs Scheme, should boost the tillage programme.
In the past two season, Cotton has been rolling out moisture conservation tillage programme to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The scheme has seen the company deploying tractors and implements to various cotton growing areas to support the farmers.
Meanwhile, planting in Muzarabani has progressed well despite the late start of the season. “We received the rains after New Year, but we have established about 42 000 hectares now,” Cottco Muzarabani business manager Mrs Sheila Chipendi said.
Farmers were also happy with inputs distribution, which they described as very “efficient.”
“Despite the late start of the season, we got all the inputs including fertilisers, seed, chemicals and herbicides as well as equipment such as knapsacks,” another farmer in the area Chenai Mabanga said.
However, the farmers appealed to the Government to settle the outstanding payments from last season and to continue providing alternative payment options such as buying implements and household goods for farmers.
“We were very happy with the payment scheme of the farm implements and groceries and we feel Cottco should continue providing that as an alternative payment method,” said another farmer Mr Carvin Mazonde.
After slumping to a record low of 28 000 tonnes in nearly two decades in 2015, cotton production rebounded, thanks to Government intervention through inputs subsidies.
The State-assisted inputs programme, now running for the seventh successive year, regenerated massive interest among farmers who had abandoned cotton for other crops citing poor prices and lack of agronomic support from contractors.
The Government then came up with the Presidential Cotton Inputs Scheme meant to support farmers with free inputs such as seed, fertilisers and chemicals.
The scheme is different from those previously run by private merchants where farmers were given inputs on commercial basis, which meant they had to repay after selling their crop.
Poor prices triggered loss of appetite for cotton farming, resulting in drastic fall of the national hectarage.
Some growers found themselves stuck in huge debts as the payments they would receive after selling their crop to contractors was not enough to repay the loans, thus reducing them to mere labourers.