The Presidential Cotton Inputs Scheme has registered a significant increase in the number of farmers taking up production of cotton in areas where the crop had been long abandoned.
The scheme, being run by The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe for the fifth consecutive year is meant to support vulnerable households with free inputs which include seed, fertiliser and chemicals.
It has helped to revive production of fibre which had declined on the back of a combination of reasons among them poor funding, inadequate agronomy support and side marketing.
In the 2014/15 season, cotton production fell sharply to 28 000 tonnes, the lowest output in nearly two decades.
It, however, steadily gained momentum, with yields coming in at about 142 000 tonnes in 2017 but took a dip in the following two seasons as a result of back to back droughts which also affected other major crops such as tobacco and maize.
Cottco has come up with a developmental programme targeting farmers who had lost interest in traditional cotton farming regions and in some areas with favourable conditions, but with very little activity.
A recent visit by The Herald Finance and Business revealed a significant uptake of cotton production in Murambinda catchment which include Gutu (Masvingo Province), Buhera and Birchenough (Manicaland Province). According to statistics from Cottco, the number of farmers participating under the scheme increased to about 12 000 from 7 500 last season in the catchment area.
In Murambinda for instance, the number of farmers increased to about 6 500 from 2 800 last year.
“We had very few farmers at the beginning but the interest is growing,” Mr Ramson Godo, a farmers’ coordinator in Murambinda said in an interview.
“Many people are now appreciating the scheme which has empowered so many families in a number of ways. We have beneficiaries who have invested proceeds of cotton in other business activities including building irrigation infrastructure. The cascade effect is so positive.”
Farmer Ms Evelyn Muzenda, a widow in Gutu hailed the Government for the programme “which has lifted many women out of poverty.”
“This is one of the best things that our Government has done to women.
“ We are empowered. I am a widow and I can’t just imagine how life would be in the absence of this scheme.”
Describing the scheme as a critical social development tool, another Murambinda farmer Axon Muguta said many families can now afford social needs including health and education.
“We, however, appeal to the Government to increase the amount of fertilisers because most of our soils are inherently infertile and need more nutrients to achieve optimum yields,” said Mr Muguta.
“We can do much better if we get more fertilisers especially this season when we are already receiving a lot of rains which makes the soils over-moisturised. We also need enough chemicals.”
This year, about 300 000 farmers are being supported under the Presidential Inputs Scheme. Some farmers are still planting while others already have an established crop. Apart from supporting farmers with free inputs, Cottco also has a free tillage programme meant to assist farmers without drought animals. Zimbabwe’s cotton is mostly grown by small-holder farmers and for long been highly favoured for its organic quality.
It is one of the major foreign currency earners alongside tobacco and horticultural produce.