The cotton industry is under threat as many of the traditional growers continue to shift to tobacco in protest over low cotton prices. As the number of tobacco growers is expanding each year, cotton production is simultaneously dwindling. There are more than 19 470 farmers who registered for tobacco this season and the number is expected to rise further while cotton production for the past season failed to reach the targeted 250 000 tonnes.
Only 150 000 tonnes of cotton were sold during the just ended season.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union vice president, Mr Johnson Mapira confirmed that many farmers were shifting to tobacco due to the favourable prices.
"Farmers will continue shifting to tobacco as it is the highly paying crop at the moment. As long as cotton prices remain suppressed, farmers will continue to look for other alternative crops of which tobacco is one of them," he said.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union agricultural economist, Mr Prince Kuipa said by shifting from cotton to tobacco, farmers were making the rationale decision.
"Farming is a business and the farmer will only grow the crop which gives him profits," he said.
Agricultural economist, Mr Midway Bhunu said although cotton farmers were shifting to tobacco there is a technical aspect they have to consider.
"These farmers should consider their agro-ecological regions, investment in infrastructure such as barns and also the knowledge of growing the crop," he said.
Mr Bhunu called on Government and other stakeholders to come up with strategies to support the cotton industry.
He said Government and the private sector could come up with a price mechanism that will ensure competitive domestic prices.
"Cotton prices are internationally controlled but Government can incentivise farmers to produce cotton even by reducing inputs prices to reduce cost of production.
This season 166,5 million kg of tobacco are expected, an increase from last year's 144 million kg.
On the other hand farmers have vowed to grow cotton only until the international prices become lucrative.