ZIMBABWE’S cotton output is forecast to jump over 400 percent to about 150 000 tonnes in the upcoming season after Government availed free inputs to over 150 000 farmers.Last year, Zimbabwe recorded an output of 30 000 tonnes, the lowest in more than two decades, with yields mostly affected by the drought, which hit several southern African countries.
The Government, through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is now ramping output again by providing free inputs under the Presidential Input Scheme, covering 300 000 hectares, worth $43 million. With surplus rainfall expected, this has also spurred farmers to plant more.
The Government input support programme is administering by Cottco, the largest cotton producer.
“We are giving farmers enough inputs including basal and top dressing fertilizer as well as chemicals,” said Cottco acting managing director Mr Pious Manamike in an interview.
“The general interest among farmers had fallen but we got very good responses this year. The enthusiasm is so great and at minimum, we are likely to harvest 150 000 tonnes.”
Supporting cotton production is in line with the central bank’s approach to transform Zimbabwe into an export driven economy. Cotton, once Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earner, lost its glitter in recent years due to a number of reasons including migration of farmers to better paying crop and inadequate agronomy support.
To increase exports, the central bank has come up with incentives and cotton farmers, like tobacco growers are entitled to benefit. Boosting cotton production is also meant to expand Zimbabwe’s export base, largely dominated by tobacco and minerals.
The Presidential Input Scheme is covering all traditional cotton growing areas countrywide.
Mr Manamike said while the interests to grow the crop had fallen, Cottco embarked on an outreach programme to rejuvenate the sector by encouraging farmers to get back to the sector.
Cotton production peaked during 2011/2012 when farmers produced 353 million kg.
The sector used to support about 400 000 households, making it one of the biggest employers. It is a major source of livelihood in communities such as Gokwe, Chiredzi and Muzarabani.