STAKEHOLDERS in Zimbabwe's cotton sector want government to consider investing substantially in cotton production amid low prices prevailing on the market, a move which threatens the viability of the sector. This came up at a meeting convened in Harare last week to look into problems affecting cotton growers in the country.
The falling international cotton prices and unfair domestic trade practices have negatively affected thousands of rural households who depend on subsistence farming, making the crop one of the most important sources of livelihoods and national revenue.
Action Aid director, Philemon Jazi, urged government to intervene in the crisis bedevilling the sector through adding value to cotton production. "Government should invest in infrastructure. we can process our own cotton, add value to our crop and sell it at a high cost, so that farmers can benefit from the whole process," he said.
Jazi said an estimated 20% of the country's population is dependent on the crop while it is also a potential foreign currency earner.
Naison Mutsananguro, a small-scale farmer from Checheche, who quit his job and ventured into cotton farming, said he was disappointed because of the volatility of producer prices. "I ventured into cotton farming in 1996 after I quit my job, hoping that it (cotton farming) would uplift my life. At first I planted 1,5 hectares of cotton in 1996/97 and got 14 bales, which motivated me to increase to four hectares in 1997/98," he said.
"We are simply providing cheap labour for investor companies such as Cotton Company of Zimbabwe and most of us don't have anything to show for the many years of labour we have been involved in cotton farming," Mutsananguro said.
Despite the minimum selling price in the 2010/11 season being pegged at US$1,05, this year's prices are lower, forcing farmers to withhold their produce anticipating a reasonable price. farmers are rejecting the US$0,30 per kg being offered by buyers, arguing that the price should be pegged between US$0,85 and US$1,30 per kg.
AMA recently announced a producer price of US$0,50 cents per kg of Grade A cotton after weeks of price negotiations between ginners and farmers.
Lower prices rile farmers: Chief Nemangwe
Chief Nemangwe from Chipinge said the current prices had angered farmers to the extent that Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) and Cotton Ginners Association workers were occasionally threatened with assault.
"We came here and listened to them talk but nothing was fruitful. farmers are still waiting for a positive feedback from us so that they know what to do with their produce and plan for the future," said Chief Nemangwe.
"Lack of proper education to farmers on the functions of the two bodies, has escalated their rage as villagers blame them for the prices and adverse poverty they are facing," he said.
Another farmer said that on average, one acre of land produces 600 kg of cotton at a cost of US$395.
"Compared to last year's minimum price of US$1,05 cents, the same yield generated US$900 for the same land," said the farmer.