5 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Farmers, Ginners to Meet Govt Over Prices

Photo: Nick Rabinowitz/Oxfam
A cotton farmer.

Cotton farmers and buyers have failed to reach agreement on cotton prices, with farmers insisting on a price of US$0,45 per kilogramme for grade D of the white gold.

Disgruntled farmers have been holding on to their crop for weeks citing low buying prices, urging merchants to raise the price from US$0,30 per kg to anything between US$0,50 to US$0,85 per kg.

The cotton marketing season has also failed to kick off due to the price war, resulting in government's intervention.

Government recently ga-zetted a Statutory Instrument making the 2011/12 cotton crop a controlled commodity, effectively giving the State the power to fix a price. Under SI 106A of 2012, buyers will be required to buy the crop at a price fixed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development. However they are still at a price deadlock with both parties not budging.

"For two weeks, after government's intervention, the meetings between ginners and farmers yielded nothing. We failed to reach an agreement because ginners have remained adam-ant. They want to buy the crop at US$0,29 per kg to US$0,35 per kg. They are not budging so we cannot really say there are price negotiations; they want to impose that price on farmers," Zimbabwe Farmers Union vice-president, Bere-an Mukwende, said.

Mukwende added that all parties were now seeking a resolution to the impasse at their meeting with government and ginners today.

"We are still to reach an agreement and we hope the Thursday meeting will bring good news. I was in the Lowveld where under normal circumstances farmers would have completed marketing the crop but up to now they are still holding onto their crop.

"I was sent by farmers in the Lowveld and they said the are not going to sell their crop for US$0,30 per kg. I think both parties should meet each other halfway," Mukwende said.

Recently in Parliament, legislators moved a motion calling on government to break the impasse on the cotton price crisis.

Mwenezi East legislator Kudakwashe Bhasikiti call-ed on government's intervention to ensure the continued viability of cotton production in Zimbabwe.

He cited the high cost of production of US$467 per hectare in high rainfall areas and US$264 in low rain fall areas, saying with a price of US$0,30 per kg, most farmers would earn US$180 per hectare.

"Buying cotton at US$0,30 per kg and realising US$180 per hectare means the farmer is left with a debt of US$140 and will be unable to clear his credit made available at the beginning of the cropping season by the merchant."

"Farmers will not make any profit but they will remain in debt and what it also means is that the farmer will not plant cotton the following growing season. The cotton industry is grinding to a halt if there is no intervention because the farmers will, from this year, stop growing the crop. I do not think that is the best thing that we want for our country," Bhasikati said.

Other parliamentarians concurred with Bhasikiti, saying US$60 per one bale of cotton which is 200 kg was not enough to improve the livelihoods of most cotton farmers who are poor small scale farmers.

Musikavanhu legislator Prosper Mutseyami called on government to protect farmers from unscrupulous cotton buyers.

"Government must ens-ure the continued production of cotton because a lot of people make a living from that. We should not have a situation where our cotton farmers' lives are destroyed and discover that there no more cotton producers in Zimbabwe," he said.

With the viability of the cotton industry in doubt the livelihoods of over 200 000 producers and their families are at stake.

In Zambia, cotton farmers rioted and set ablaze a truckload of cotton in lint form, after the farm-gate prices of the commodity plunged by more than 50 percent after Zambia Cotton Ginners Association, which buys the cotton from the farmers for ginning set the price of lint at 1 600 Zambian kwacha (US$0,31) per kg, down from 3 500 Zambian kwacha last season.

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