Bright prospects for cotton

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COTTON production is set to increase in the 2014/2015 as more farmers have shown interest in producing the white gold this season.
According to the Cotton Producers and Marketers Association (CPMA) production is expected to grow by more than 64 000 tonnes.
Producers have set a target of 200 000 tonnes to surpass the 136 000 realised last season.
In the past years, cotton production has suffered due to lack of funding.
The average support of about US$44 million per season tumbled to US$22 million.
At its peak the country produced about 353 000 tonnes of cotton despite having the potential to produce at least 600 000 tonnes from an average yield of between 1 500 kilogrammes (kg) and 2 000 kg per hectare.
However, yield per hectare declined to 0,5 kg in the small-scale farming areas.
According to the current pricing trends the 200 000 tonnes would earn the country more than US$200 million.
The CPMA national organising secretary, Steward Mubonderi said most farmers around the country had acquired inputs.
He said the development would promote quality production of the crop as farmers would have adequate production time.
“Cotton is a long season crop that requires long preparation time and to mature,” he said.
“The Government has shown commitment to supporting cotton production in the country.
“This means we are going to see an increase of noncontract crops as more farmers will afford to produce through government support.”
Cotton has become unprofitable in the past years as the commodity is attracting low prices on the market.
The producer price was pegged at US35 cents per kilogramme against between US54 cents and US40 cents needed by farmers to produce one kg of cotton.
Farmers demanded US60 cents per kg in order for them to realise profit.
This resulted in most farmers abandoning the crop for cash crops such as tobacco which offer better returns.
Mubonderi said there was an increase in the number of cotton farmers this season as a result of firming global prices set for next year selling season.
“Some of the largest producers of cotton in the world such as India have been affected by floods which have damaged most of its crop,” he said.
“Therefore, the demand for cotton will increase internationally attracting a fair price.
“So far we have seen a come back of farmers who had abandoned cotton production for other crops such as tobacco.”
About 200 000 small-scale farmers are engaged in cotton growing in Zimbabwe, with 98 percent of the crop being produced under various contract farming schemes.
Growth in smallholder cotton production during the 1990s was driven by the development of the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe credit scheme and by active promotion of the crop in small-scale growing areas of Gokwe, Sanyati, Guruve, Muzarabani, Mt Darwin and Checheche.
However, the company is struggling to stay afloat and retrenched 62 workers in 2010 to remain viable.
Between 2011 and 2012, the company’s cotton production dropped sharply from 350 703 tonnes to 121 964 tonnes, marking a 62 percent decline.
The other worry besides unpredictable markets has been the malpractice involved in the selling of cotton in the country.
Most cotton farmers in the country depend on contract farming with the contractors funding inputs for the production of the crop which they are entitled to buy from farmers according to Statutory Instrument 142 of 2009 formulated to regulate the cotton sector.
The statutory instrument also makes it illegal to side-market the crop, a practice that almost derailed the industry prior to 2009.
However, most farmers have been complaining that the contractors were cheating them as they realised more profit while the producers remained poor.
Farmers called on ginners to settle payments according to grades of the crop and not offer a flat fee for the various grades.
They also called for a pre-planting price to assure them of a fair price when marketing begins as they were paid very little after producing the crop.
Cotton remains one of the country’s largest foreign currency earners, but production remains constrained due to lack of agricultural technology to enhance production and stiff competition from subsidised growers in countries such as the United States and India.
Zimbabwe is yet to embrace genetically modified crops, but industry players believe the country could significantly increase output if farmers were allowed to grow GMO cotton.
Planting for cotton is still ongoing for the current season.

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