Zimbabwe Government has increased support to cotton farmers with the aim of improving yields and quality, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Minister Dr Joseph Made has said. “We have engaged Quton to distribute seed sufficient to support 350 000 households and the (distribution) exercise is underway,” Dr Made said in an interview yesterday.
Over the past few years, the Government, which has set a target of 300 000 hectares for 2015 /16 season, has been supporting farmers through the Presidential Input Scheme.
“We are moving with speed because we would want all seed to be planted before end of January.”
There have been concerns that contractors, who have been funding cotton production, may significantly cut down on financial support to farmers after failing to recover substantial volumes of the contracted crop last season.
According to industry players, most contractors failed to recover their money due to side marketing.
The contract schemes constituted 98 percent of production and were introduced at a time when farmers were failing to access finance from banks due to lack of collateral.
Dr Made said the Government would also provide cotton spray and fertilisers to improve quality and productivity.
“Even if the hectarage will be slightly below the planted hectarage last year, the quality will improve.”
He added that the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development will soon avail part of the $10 million set aside for the industry in the 2015 Budget.
The cotton industry was viable until early 2000 when it was opened up to a multitude of small companies, which wreaked havoc in the sector by inducing side marketing.
This created challenges with debt recovery, yield as well as poor operational efficiencies.
Minister Made admitted the Government’s shortcomings on monitoring the sector. He said the Government would now “keep an eye” on the industry to restore viability.
The Government was also engaging Russians and Chinese to invest into the sector to improve viability.
This year, Zimbabwe recorded a decline in cotton output, its lowest level in four years as farmers shifted from cotton production to better paying crops such as tobacco.
Output fell 6,2 percent to 136 million kilogrammes, from 145 million kilogrammes a season earlier, according to Cotton Ginners Association.
In 2011 /2012, output was 350 million kilogrammes.
The association, a grouping of cotton merchants, had projected output would reach 190 million kilogrammes.