GOVERNMENT is cajoling cotton farmers to stay on or those who have left to return to producing the “white gold” by offering greater rewards as part of efforts to sustain the textile sector. At its peak Zimbabwe produced 353 000 metric tonnes in 2000-2001, but output declined to 102 000 tonnes thisyear.
Last year the country produced 136 000 tonnes of cotton, which has now been placed in a basket of crops Government is targeting including soyabeans, tobacco and maize.
In his Budget statement on Thursday, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Government recognised the importance of reviving cotton farming given significant agro-linkages with the textile industry, and involvement of over 300 000 smallholder farmers.
Cotton production at its peak was the major source of income and livelihood for rural communities around the Gokwe, Sanyati, Rushinga and Checheche areas and accounted for close to a fifth of agricultural exports.
Other factors undermining cotton production included decline in international cotton prices, against the background of competition from such substitutes as synthetic fibres.
“The focus is on cotton because of its many value chains. The possibilities are enormous. To that extent I have provided and indicated that for the next three seasons I would be giving free inputs to cotton farmers.
“This is primarily intended to get the farmers who had turned their backs against cotton to go back into cotton production.
“They were now moving into tobacco, maize even when they know they are coming from very marginal areas in terms of rainfall, such as Rushinga, Gokwe and Chiredzi,” said Minister Chinamasa.
He said producing cotton will mean that the country will extract wool, oil, spinning and weave as well as textiles.
The cotton output decline is notwithstanding the installed ginnery capacity of 427 000 tonnes of seed cotton.
The decline in cotton production has also left Cottco, a major player in the industry, with about 35 percent market share, on the verge of collapse. This is at a time when a number of other private players have exited the cotton market.
Minister Chinamasa said inaction on the part of Government can only lead to total collapse of cotton production, with dire consequences across the textile industries’ related value chain.
In order to reverse decline in cotton farming, Government is championing the resuscitation of cotton production through a restructured Cottco.
The measures that Government is introducing include that Government takeover of $52,7 million Cottco debt and conversion into equity; cost restructuring; resourcing the Cotton Input Financing Scheme in support of the 2015-16 season and registration of farmers.
Government is also focusing on marketing of cotton through designated buying points; and enhancing productivity.
The Cotton Input Financing Scheme involves provision of inputs to growers on credit, covering seed, fertilisers, chemicals and cash advances for weeding, harvesting and packaging requirements.
Under the new regime, companies or merchants that do not contribute to the input supply scheme will not be allowed to participate in the buying back of such cotton.
Government has unveiled a cotton inputs support scheme valued at $25,8 million, targeting to put 250 000 hectares under cotton production during the forthcoming season.