Zimbabwe has missed its 2019-2020 production target for raw cotton by 20 000 tonnes because of drought, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka has said.
Dr Masuka said the southern African nation produced about 80 000 tonnes, slightly higher than 74 000 tonnes in the previous season amid growing calls to climate proof the crop in light of recurring droughts. The sector was targeting to produce 100 000 tonnes.
Even though there are deliveries trickling in from farmers who were holding on to their commodity in anticipation of cash payments, these are insignificant to cause any changes on this year’s output.
The suspension of bulk mobile money payments by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to curb illegal foreign currency trading, resulted in cotton merchants, including The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which administers the Presidential Free Inputs Scheme, switching to alternative payment systems including buying household goods, farm implements and productive assets.
The central bank believes large money transfers, particularly by EcoCash agents, were being used to fuel black market deals in foreign exchange. In the previous seasons, the majority of the cotton farmers were paid via mobile platforms especially EcoCash.
“This country is predicted to become drier in the decades ahead (and) drought will be every other year occurrence. Despite that we must grow cotton.
“It means that we must climate proof our cotton production as we have done with Pfumvudza programme,” said Dr Masuka.
Zimbabwe was hit by droughts in the last two seasons, which saw cotton out dipping from 142 000 tonnes produced in 2017/2018 season. Production had been on a steady increase after recovering from a mere 28 000 tonnes in 2015, the lowest output since 1992 after farmers abandoned the crop due to poor prices.
The Government’s intervention through the Presidential Free Inputs Scheme saw many farmers taking up cotton production again, with numbers of growers rising from 75 000 in 2015 to the current 400 000.
The scheme was initially meant for small-scale farmers and vulnerable families, but has since been extended to commercial growers with irrigation infrastructure.
Last week, Dr Masuka laid out his vision for the country’s cotton industry aimed at accelerating growth and enhance sustainability.
The vision is in the context of the recently launched Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy, which seeks to grow the agriculture sector to US$8,2 billion from US$5,2 billion in the next four years.
Top on the list is climate proofing the cotton presidential input scheme to insulate the sector from the devastating effects of climate change.
Dr Masuka said the industry should come up with innovative ways of shielding the crop from the vagaries of weather, the same way the government did with Pfumvudza.
Dr Masuka wants to see increased participation of more players in the industry as opposed to the current state of affairs where the industry is dominated by Cottco.
He said the role of the Agriculture and Marketing Authority needs to be reviewed “as an honest arbiter, regulator and manager of the industry”.
AMA, the State regulatory board charged to ensure orderly marketing of cotton, has been widely blamed for failing to curb side marketing largely perpetrated by private firms.
Curbing side marketing, re-establishment of a fair and transparent inputs distribution system is also among minister’s top priorities.
In addition, Dr Masuka wants to see enhanced capacitation of farmers through irrigation development, tractor and implement and equipment provision through lease, rentals and outright purchase by farmers and at favourable terms and condition as well as fair payment to farmers.
Merchants should provide robust extension support systems to farmers and further decentralises inputs collection and buying points for easy accessibility.
Involvement of farmers in cotton value addition and beneficiation so that they can get a share of by products is also critical, the Minister said.
He said cotton production remains a key source of livelihood for many families and growing the sector will help the country achieve upper middle-income status by 2030.