BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
Cotton farmers across the country are up in arms over merchants’ move to pay them with groceries instead of cash upon delivering their crop.
Cabinet in June approved a floor producer price of $43,94 per kg for the 2020-2021 cotton marketing season. Under the arrangement, farmers were supposed to be paid US$10 per bale delivered while 38% of the value of a 200kg bale would be in cash and the balance transferred electronically.
But Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Shadreck Makombe revealed that farmers were being short-changed by buyers, who were giving them groceries instead of cash.
“Cotton farmers’ grievances are that the mode of payment of getting groceries from Cottco is disappointing. Farmers are not in support of that method as they feel they are being short-changed and being forced to accept a deal they didn’t bargain for or agree to,” Makombe said.
Moreso, the ZCFU president revealed that farmers were enduring long delays in receiving payment from cotton merchants after delivering their crop at buying points.
“Farmers have to wait for long periods before they get payment. “By the time they receive it, the value would have been eroded. “This is unacceptable and painful. This is very embarrassing and detrimental to the welfare and livelihoods of farmers since they have daily needs to meet such as food, medication and education,” he said.
Farmers said paying with groceries was prejudicing them.
“This is hitting us hard and we had not planned for this. Worse still, the groceries come late. Up to now I have not even received anything after delivering 12 bales in July,” said one farmer in Matezwa, Chipinge.
Other farmers said they were never consulted about the groceries, vowing they would stop growing cotton.
“We were never consulted, but due to poverty we don’t have any option. I don’t think I will grow cotton again,” said another farmer identified as Mlambo from Chinyamukwakwa, Chipinge.
“I delivered two bales weighing 248kg and 228kg and was supposed to be paid $20 000, but instead I was given US$10 and 30kg of mealie-meal for my crop. I grew cotton so that I could go and pay lobola to my in-laws. What will I do now? I will never grow cotton again.”
Farmers in cotton-growing areas such as Gokwe, Checheche, Garahwa and Mabee, Mbire also face double trouble when they want to use mobile money as traders charge a premium for such transactions.
Efforts to get a comment from Cottco, which is rolling out free government cotton inputs to about 400 000 households constituting 90% of total cotton farmers, were in vain.
Central bank governor John Mangudya had not responded to questions sent to him by the time of going to press.
Cotton production in Zimbabwe declined to an all-time low of 32 000 tonnes in 2016, from 84 000 tonnes in 2015, and 143 000 tonnes in 2014, after a decade-long spell of perceived lower prices averaging US$0,30 per kg.
From 2015, government moved to start sponsoring a free inputs scheme to boost cotton production, which has seen nearly 400 000 farmers benefit from the inputs.
“While farmers do appreciate the move by government to subsidise the cotton sector through the presidential inputs scheme, there is a lot to be improved on, such as provision of adequate inputs in time, effective and efficient distribution monitoring should improve so as to make sure inputs are put where they ought to be,” said Makombe .
“Besides the points mentioned above, public and private investors should seriously consider bringing back cotton farming to its heydays as a foreign currency earner. If farmers continue to get unfair treatment and raw deals we expect an exodus to other profitable crops.”
Economist Victor Bhoroma said farmers must explicitly specify that being paid in kind by cotton merchants was unacceptable. The arrangement is unfair as farmers require cash to take care of their non-farming needs and general welfare.
“It’s inconvenient for them to trade groceries every time they need to make payments for various services while merchants export and get foreign currency. It discourages cotton farming in the country and provides rent-seeking opportunities to middlemen and merchants who can easily take advantage of vulnerable farmers,” Bhoroma said.
Economist John Robertson warned that cotton buyers were placing future production at risk.
“Growers need to pay school fees and meet other costs. Imposing barter trade will destroy confidence and damage what is left of our textile industry,” he said.