Government has moved to boost cotton production by providing free inputs to farmers for the next three years, but experts say a problem assessment strategy was critical to revive the sector.
In his 2016 national budget statement, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said farmers would get free inputs for the next three seasons to improve production and yields.
The cotton industry used to be vibrant in the 1990s with 350 000 farmers in the sector growing as much as 353 000 tonnes of cotton annually particularly at production peak in 2 000. Cotton was mostly grown in dry areas such as Muzarabani and Gokwe, among others. The cotton prices on the international market were competitive during that period.
The number of farmers has gone down to 200 000, who are growing about 135 000 tonnes annually. The output is expected to decline further this season due to poor rainfalls and other challenges.
The decline in cotton production has also crippled the value chains in the cotton industry that include the clothing, spinning and weaving sectors.
Due to depressed cotton prices on the international market, many farmers abandoned the crop for other cash crops such as tobacco that had competitive prices.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development chairperson Christopher Chitindi said the issue of cotton was contentious and it seemed solutions were being offered without a problem assessment strategy. He said the problem assessment strategy should include what is obtaining on the international market as it would be difficult to discuss or study the cotton sector without including it.
Chitindi said the provision of free inputs would address the system challenges being faced, but not the actual problems. He said the failed system in the maize industry was being adopted and implemented in the cotton sector.
Chitindi said the availability of seed would not address matters of yield capacity and the provision of inputs would not address the contentious issue of market prices, which were determined on the international market.
“Our farmers must be convinced to go back to cotton production because a number of them are now in tobacco production. Free inputs will cut the cost of production for a farmer by at least 40%, but the 60% will have to be covered by the farmer. The resuscitation of Cottco and availability of inputs will fall in the same predicament as maize. It will not address price and yields capacity. But overall, we are happy that government has intervened by acquiring Cottco and by giving free inputs to farmers for the next three seasons,” he said.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said the idea of providing inputs by government was good and it was going to work very well if the season was good.
“Most farmers should have planted earlier but due to the poor rains, we don’t know how many have planted so far and some have even given up because of the poor rains. Although cotton is a drought-resistant crop, we do not have the real hectares that have been planted so far,” Chabikwa said.
He said the poor rainfall could affect the targeted hectarage of 250 000 for this season.
“We think prices will change because farmers will now have access to inputs from government, which means farmers can set their own prices and not depend on the buyers to set the prices on their behalf,” Chabikwa said.
Chitindi said government must make it compulsory for the public sector to buy their raw materials and finished goods from local textile and clothing manufacturers respectively.
“The cotton sector is in a bad state and it is all its players along the value chain who are to blame, including government which has a relaxed approach to the importation of second-hand clothes. Inputs will definitely change one component of the cotton sector or rather value chains and that is the production component. This is because the problems bedeviling the sector are not limited to production alone but to other components of the value chain which are all interlinked,” said Chitindi.
“The most important factor to note is that the performance of the cotton sector is dependent on lint prices internationally. The price is also dependent on other factors beyond our control which include subsidies offered to cotton producers in the US and China. It will be expensive for Zimbabwe to provide such subsidies because at the end of the day, the production levels are not adequate to cause a change in the international prices.”
He said given this background, it made sense for the country to invest in value addition for the crop and it also required the resuscitation of the spinning and weaving sectors.
The 2014-15 season national output stood at 135 000 tonnes, down from 145 000 tonnes for the 2013/14 season.
According to the World Bank paper on the cotton sector, the country had a major change in the structure of the sector in 2001-03 following its liberalisation in 1994.
The sector was run effectively as a duopoly of Cottco, the privatised parastatals and Cargill.