Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuku on Friday spelled out his vision for the country’s cotton industry aimed at accelerating growth and enhancing sustainability.
The vision is in the context of the recently launched Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy which seeks to grow the agriculture sector to US$8,2 billion from US$5,2 billion in the next four years.
Top on the list is climate proofing the cotton presidential input scheme to insulate the sector from the devastating effects of climate change.
Since 2015, the government has been financing cotton farmers through a free input scheme. The programme helped increase production from 28 000 tonnes, the lowest since 1992, to about 142 000 tonnes in 2018.
Production however declined to 74 000 tonnes last season due to poor rains.
It is expected to increase to 85 000 tonnes this year, but lower than initially expected due to droughts.
Dr Masuka said the industry should come up with innovative ways of shielding the crop from the vagaries of weather, the same way the government did with Pfumvudza.
Dr Masuka also wants to see increased participation of more players in the industry as opposed to the current state of affairs where the industry is dominated by Cottco.
He said the role of the Agriculture and Marketing Authority needs to be reviewed “as an honest arbiter, regulator and manager of the industry.”
AMA, the State regulatory board charged to ensure orderly marketing of cotton, has been widely blamed for failing to curb side marketing largely perpetrated by private firms.
Curbing side marketing, re establishment of a fair and transparent inputs distribution system is also among minister’s top priorities.
In addition, Dr Masuka also wants to see enhanced capacitation of farmers through irrigation development, tractor and implement and equipment provision through lease, rentals and outright purchase by farmers and at favourable terms and conditions as well as fair payment to farmers.
Merchants should provide robust extension support systems to farmers and further decentralises inputs collection and buying points for easy accessibility.
Involvement of farmers in cotton value addition and beneficiation so that they can get a share of by products is also critical, the Minister said. He said cotton production remains a key source of livelihood for many families and growing the sector will help the country achieve upper middle income status by 2030.
He applauded Cottco for timely distribution of inputs while urging farmers to be more productive to boost yields.
The minister castigated side marketing and inputs abuse, warning those found involved would face the consequences.
Earlier, Cottco acting managing director Mr Pious Manamike said the company was looking at more value addition projects, outside ginning, to ensure the country maximised earnings from cotton. These include production of cooking oil, yarn and fabric.
The projects are under board’s consideration.