7 February 2018

Zimbabwe: Rains Bring Relief to Cotton Farmers

Cotton farmers, whose crop had started showing signs of moisture stress, have renewed hope amid moderate to heavy rains that have fallen in most parts of the country since last week.

While cotton is naturally a drought tolerant crop, the prolonged dry spell that the country experienced since end of December last year, had resulted in part of the crop suffering from moisture stress. And if the dry spell had persisted, a significant hectarage of the crop would have been written off. However, the country started receiving the rains last week, renewing hopes for many farmers.

"We are happy we are now receiving the rains after experiencing a long dry spell and this should help us to produce better yields," Yeukai Zerera of Nyanyadzi in Manicaland said.

The majority of the farmers benefited under the Presidential Input Scheme, which saw nearly 400 000 cotton growers benefiting. Last year, The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which is administering the programme, distributed inputs to about 155 000 cotton growers, pushing the national production to about 75 000 tonnes from 28 000 tonnes.

This year's package was made up of 8 000 tonnes of seed, 40 000 tonnes of basal fertiliser and 20 000 tonnes of top dressing fertiliser. The first tranche of inputs being planting seed and Compound L fertiliser have been disbursed to the targeted farmers. Farmers in Birchenough Bridge and Jerera also expressed optimism of better harvests following the rains.

"We started receiving decent rains last week in some of the areas surrounding us, but the rains have now spread all over the entire region and this has revived our crop, which had started showing signs of moisture stress," said Ngoni Jairus, who farms in Jerera, Masvingo Province. Even farmers who had a late crop also said the wet spell would help reviving their crop.

Cotton Producers and Marketers Association chairman Steward Mubonderi, said the rains had brought much relief to farmers whose crop had been affected by the dry spell.

"The crop, particularly the late planted, is beginning to show signs of recovery," said Mr Mubonderi in an interview. "Although there was a setback, the rains have kept us on course to meet our targets," he said, adding the association would disclose the estimates of projected output upon completion of a validation exercise.

"But we are likely to have an improvement on last year since we have more farmers participating (under the Presidential Input Scheme) this year. "We now encourage our farmers to ensure the crop is well managed (pest control) to ensure better yields.

Cotton used to be one of the country's largest foreign currency earners before production slumped due to viability challenges resulting from inadequate funding and poor prices. Agriculture analysts say to some extent, the "mid-season drought" will help boost production.

"Unlike last year when we had incessant rains, which resulted in excessive vegetative growth, we are seeing an increase in average balls per plant because of the hot conditions," said an agronomist with a local Non-Governmental Organisation.

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