The Government has extended the Presidential Cotton Input Support Programme to Matabeleland Provinces where it is targeting to finance 20 000 farmers in the forthcoming season. The programme--running for the third consecutive year--had mainly benefited rural farmers in traditional cotton growing districts such as Muzarabani, Gokwe and the Lowveld. Since its launch in 2015, Government has spent close to $70 million on cotton inputs, with an upward of 155 000 household benefiting. Last season, output rose by about 157 percent from 28 000 tonnes in 2016 to 72 000 tonnes. This year, the Government intends to spend $60 million with 400 000 households expected to benefit.
The programme has provided relief to thousands of farmers who had abandoned the crop due to poor prices and exploitative contract schemes, mainly by private players. Most parts of Matabeleland North and South are under region four and five, where rainfall is low and experience periodic seasonal droughts and severe dry spells during the summer season. Such climatic conditions are ideal for cotton production.
"We have extended the programme to Matabeleland because most places fall under region four and five," Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development (Cropping Production) Davis Marapira said in an interview yesterday.
"So we are encouraging farmers to take up cotton production. Distribution of inputs is already underway. It is not something completely new but we are doing it at a larger scale." While cotton farming in Matabeleland North was done on a lesser scale until 2013 when most farmers abandoned the crop citing marketing challenges, the new programme will see at least 20 000 hectares put under cotton production during the next season. The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which is administering the programme, has already started registering farmers who are showing huge appetite to grow the cash crop. Cottco is targeting about 15 000 farmers in Matabeleland North's districts of Lupane, Tsholotsho, Bubi, Umguza, Binga, Hwange and Nkayi. In Matabeleland South, the company is targeting 5 000 farmers in Filabusi, Matobo and Mangwe districts.
"We have started the registration of farmers with the help of Agritex, which is assisting us in identifying farmers," area manager Innocent Ncube told The Herald Business. We are also employing field officers in all districts and we are confident it will be a success. "With our extension penetration, we hope that they would be a good uptake. We have received a commendable buy in from all stakeholders including traditional leaders."
Districts already receiving inputs include Lupane, Filabusi, Mangwe, Hwange and Tholotsho. Mr Ncube said Mat North had huge potential areas in Lupane, Nkayi and Binga where about 11 000 growers produced 7 000 tonnes in 2013 at an average yield per ha of 0,7 tonnes. He said the company was putting in place structures to ensure the inputs were not abused. Agritex provincial officer for Mat North Mr Dumisani Nyoni, said recruitment of farmers was ongoing, adding some districts have already started receiving the inputs.
"We have many farmers who were previously shortchanged as their crop ended up finding no buyers," said Mr Nyoni. "So we are encouraging farmers to take up production, but they also need assurance that the crop will be collected and paid in time." Villagers interviewed by The Herald Business in Umguza, Lupane and Hwange, expressed interest in taking up cotton production. "We are very happy that the programme has come to our region. It is a cash crop that will help us improve our livelihoods.
"The registration is ongoing and many villagers are willing to join the programme," said Ms Spiwe Ndhlovu, a villager in Merry band area of Umguza district. Mr Barnabas Dube of Lupane, applauded Cottco for taking the programme to Matabeleland provinces, urging the company to put in place measures to ensure orderly marketing.
"We have done cotton before, but we abandoned it because of marketing issues. We produced the crop and nobody came to buy. This eroded our confidence of many farmers. We are, however, encouraged that there is order in the way the company is operating in terms of farmer registrations and we have seen the inputs coming."