ZIMBABWE'S cotton production increased 150 percent this year, largely driven by Government's free input support programme, according to official statistics.
Cotton output increased to 70 000 tonnes, up from 28 000 tonnes produced during last season, latest figures from the Agriculture and Marketing Authority show. AMA has not yet declared the selling season closed but deliveries buying points have slowed. Production of the "white gold" slumped to about 28 000 tonnes last year, the lowest since 1992. The Presidential Input Scheme however saw an upward of 155 000 farmers returning to production.
Government, through The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, injected in excess of $42 million into the cotton sector and has scaled up the financial support to $60 million this year. The Presidential Free Inputs Scheme also helped Cottco to reclaim its position as the market leader after buying more than 54 000 tonnes of the total crop delivered.
Farmers in Gokwe, who produced 50 percent of the crop hailed the Presidential Inputs Programme, saying it had managed to empower thousands of farmers who had abandoned the crop due to exploitative financing models by private contractors.
They were speaking at an event to express appreciation of the free input programme. "What was happening is that private companies were giving us inputs at inflated prices and buy the commodity at very low prices. So at the end of the day, we were essentially providing free labor because all the income would go towards debt repayment.
"In certain instances, some farmers ended up losing their property or livestock after failing to repay," famer Ishmael Chacha said. "But we are happy the President has come to our rescue."
Another farmer, Barnabas George said: "We are happy for what the President is doing. Cotton is a dominant commercial commodity in Gokwe and the collapse of the industry had thrown thousands of families in poverty. The impact of this programme on the livelihoods of people is so huge. Farmers have managed to upgrade their homes, buy cattle; some even cars, animal drawn ploughs and parents are paying school fees. Service providers such as transporters are back and most grocery shops in the village have re-opened. Commercial activities have grown."
The local leadership said the programme has helped boost cotton production, tame poverty among the rural people and created jobs. Gokwe Mapfungautsi Member of Parliament Miriam Makweya said the scheme was "well-coordinated and successful."
"This is a wonderful programme, which was extremely well managed and we are just hoping that the next season will be a success just as the previous one," she said. "Despite some logistical challenges, the management at Cottco did so well to timely distribute the inputs. It also swiftly responded to challenges we encountered during the season.
"We are happy some of the inputs are already at the depots and distribution should immediately begin before the rains. "In terms of cotton production in Gokwe, we are now stable and our people are very happy. "We are really appreciating efforts by all stakeholders including the Minister (of Agriculture Dr Joseph Made) as well as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Gokwe-Gumunyu MP Melania Majovan said the programme offered good opportunity for improving farm productivity and livelihoods especially for rural women.
"We are very happy that the programme has empowered the disadvantaged women," she said. Gokwe-Kana legislator Owen Ncube said the programme helped to create jobs, improve livelihoods and would go a long way in reviving downstream industries such as the textiles.
While cotton production was initially estimated to reach 110 000 tonnes, several downgrading factors, including excessive rains, diversion and abuse of inputs by some farmers as well as smuggling of the commodity to Mozambique saw missing the target.