Oil expressers urged to contract cotton farmers
Edgar Vhera Agriculture Specialist Writer
THE country’s eight oil expressing companies can add traction to the Government’s import substitution drive if they secure 40 percent of their annual raw material requirements through contract farming arrangements.
Zimbabwe Investment and Development Authority (ZIDA) chairman Mr Busisa Moyo made the observation during this year’s World Cotton Day commemorations in Harare recently.
“In the past the country used to have three oil companies but without cotton contract farming, now there are eight and we are all fighting for our raw material from the same small local cake. It is time oil expressers engaged cotton farmers on a commercial basis through contract farming arrangements to arrest imports of crude oil and boost the country’s economic development.
“Cotton can be a catalyst for economic development, thanks to its multiple benefits along the whole value chain from lint, oil, clothes, leather, stockfeed and so on. Farmers must be incentivised to grow quality cotton,” said Mr Moyo.
At peak, the country produced 353 million kilogrammes of seed cotton in 2000 from which over 50 million litres of cooking oil were produced.
“The 50 million litres of cooking oil produced during the peak cotton period were enough to meet four months of the country’s cooking oil needs. The cotton meal from cotton seed produces good stock feed for cattle. If a beast of cattle is fed 12 kilogrammes of cotton meal and 40 litres of water, then it increases weight by between 2 and 2, 5kg per day,” added Mr Moyo.
Though some of the oil companies are engaged in soya bean and sunflower contract growing on a small-scale, output from such ventures is providing limited cover for their raw material needs necessitating the importation of crude oil.
Cangrow Trading disclosed at the World Cotton Day that though they are one of the largest suppliers of cooking oil in the country, they have not done any contract growing arrangements with farmers and were importing their raw material requirements.
Mount Meru Millers echoed the same sentiments saying they installed a US$20 million edible oil refinery plant capable of producing 250 tonnes of soya bean oil per day but were relying on imports for raw materials.
It is also the same with Surface Wilmar who are yet to contract farmers although they get raw materials from local farmers.
However, companies like Pure Oil Industries are currently contracting farmers for sunflower and soya bean production and giving them seed.
Diversified agro-processor and manufacturer of oils, United Refineries Limited (URL) is actually trebling hectarage under soya bean contracting from 2 500 to 7 500ha this season. This initiative is meant to scale up production and processing of cooking oil and curtail soya bean and crude oil imports.
Stakeholders in the cotton industry have called for a new cotton financing model that is able to increase productivity from the current low of 0, 356 tonnes per hectare to the highest ever figure of 1, 752 tonnes per hectare achieved in 1980.
Cotton Producers and Marketers Association chairman, Mr Stewart Mubonderi yesterday stressed the need for the country to make good use of the new agro-ecological mapping’s comparative advantage in cotton producing areas.
“Farmers who intend to plant cotton on a commercial basis on areas larger than the Pfumvudza/Intwasa plot size must be contracted by private players so that our oil and stock feed requirements are met. “There are some farmers with large areas of up to 40ha in areas such as Chitekete in Gokwe who want to do commercial cotton production this season,” said Mr Mubonderi.
Imports of soya bean, sunflower and cotton oil and seed have been chewing over US$100 million annually from 2010 to 2021. There has been a steep increase in such imports from a low of US$95 million in 2019 to US$289 million in 2021 – a whopping 205 percent increase.