Local cotton farmers are outraged by the non-payment for their crop which they delivered this past year. Government recently appointed the new Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) board chaired by the former Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Sifelani Jabangwe. Business Reporter Fidelity Mhlanga (FM) spoke to Jabangwe (SJ) to find out what his plans are for the parastatal and how he intends to get the board to deal with problems bedevilling the cotton value chain in Zimbabwe.
Below are excerpts from their discussion:
FM: What changes do you seek to bring to cotton farming?
SJ: First and foremost, I will work to transform the sector and attend to the challenges that have been devaluing the sector for a long time now. Some of the issues are known; the issues which resulted in farmers abandoning the crop and the crop output dropping to record levels. The issue of inputs is currently being attended to by the Presidential Inputs scheme in an effort to grow the output. So what we need is a solution which will be structural in nature that will actually address the relationships between the farmer, the ginner and the market so that the value that is created is to some extent shared. It also keeps the motivation of all players to continue to participate in the cotton value chain.
FM: What has been the reason for the late payment to cotton farmers and when are they going to be paid?
SJ: We are still getting acquainted with the organisation. We should be getting our induction packs soon, then we visit depots and talk to farmers. This problem has been going on for a long time (remember the time of Cargill). It needs to be looked at properly. We need to identify the most suitable model which will give us sustainability for the cotton stakeholders
FM: Due to non-payment for their crop, many farmers say they are contemplating quitting cotton farming. What incentives do you have in mind to keep this threat at bay?
SJ: The financial part of the structural issues will be attended to. Crops such as cotton need to have an ecosystem that is sustainable with a finer system which is also self-sustaining. It is dependent on the activities in the sector which ensure timely supply of raw materials, seeds and chemicals and, of course, timely payment to farmers. So, this is part of the work the new board will embark on together with the management.
FM: Do you foresee many buyers for cotton in the foreseeable future?
SJ: Certainly, the specific action taken to avoid side-marketing of the crop will likely see a number of buyers trying to come in and buy this cotton they have not sponsored. This is because it will be such a lucrative opportunity to make money out of nothing. Measures to prevent side-marketing need to be implemented so that it will not happen again.
FM: At the last Cottco annual general meeting, the current management was lambasted for incompetence. Would you recommend any changes in the existing management structure?
SJ: With regard to the management, I think it’s really a combination of the team that will deliver value. It is important that we work together and we do the transformational work that is required. We do have a cooperative board which can direct what needs to be done to be successful; to transform the nature of the cotton industry and to ensure that Cottco itself is successful.
FM: What is your impression about the clothing and textile value chain in Zimbabwe?
SJ: The clothing and textile industry has certainly regressed over the past years due to various factors. Part of it is that it has lost some key assets which include spinning capacity which is now low. Then in terms of weaving capacity, it’s only operating at David Whitehead. So in terms of local fabric that is available to the clothing sector, we do not have much going on out there. As Cottco, we will see how best we can support the cotton value chain for all its products because success of cotton production in this country will depend significantly on ensuring that we start to value-add and benefit from the potential that is from various parts of cotton which can be oil, the lint, the fabric and the stock feed.