Martin Kadzere Senior Business Reporter
THE Government should ramp up the use of high-yielding cotton hybrid seeds to lift productivity and cut the risk of crop failures, farmers have urged, as traditional open varieties (OPVs) are getting more susceptible to recurring droughts.
Faced with climate induced droughts, Zimbabwe adopted hybrid varieties that need less water to boost productivity and “the output has been encouraging,” farmers said.
Despite contributing less than 3 percent of global greenhouse emissions, African countries, including Zimbabwe, are bearing the biggest brunt of extreme weather conditions characterised by unreliable rainfall, threatening crop yields and food security.
Farmers in Gokwe, the country’s largest cotton producing region told The Herald Finance & Business that the risk factor of using hybrid varieties was less compared to OPVs and implored the Government to boost its use.
“The reality is that the hybrids are doing exceptionally well compared to OPVs,, “ farmer Mr Orbert Mpofu of Gokwe Central said.”They are less susceptible to diseases and pests. They can also withstand long dry spells. We are pleading with the Government to give us more hybrids so that we can boost production.”
Cottco field officer Tawanda Mudziwepesi said reproduction levels “are much higher” with balls per plant for hybrids averaging between 75 and 120 compared to between 8 and 12 of OPVs.
“We are providing farmers with both hybrids and OPVs. When we compare the two varieties, the OPVs are more prone to pests and diseases than hybrids. The hybrids are resisting diseases. The hybrids are also doing well even during dry spells and the growth rate is quite encouraging,” said Mudziwepesi.
Another farmer, Mr Clopas Chisina, who started cotton farming 37 years ago said hybrids” have tolerance” to moisture stress, urging the Government to increase its use.
The Government, through The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe is the largest financier of cotton production, and last year accounted for nearly 90 percent of output.
According to studies, the seed rate per hectare when using OPVs is 15 times more than hybrid seeds, meaning farmers can plant more and raise yield prospects.
In terms of output, yield per unit can be as much as 30 percent bigger than the open pollinated varieties. This also translates to higher revenues from lint, one of Zimbabwe’s major agriculture export commodities and cotton seed used to produce cooking oil.
Agriculture experts say the use of varieties will improve productivity and quality as well as minimise crop failure in light of weak rains due to climate change.
The bulk of cotton seed in Zimbabwe is lower grade (Cs and Ds) and this compromises lint quality on international markets. Droughts have also caused the weakening of the fibre while the OPVs, grown by the majority of the farmers “are now tired.”
“Adopting the use of hybrid seed comes with a lot of advantages including enhancing the competitiveness of our cotton at global markets given that the most cotton producing countries have adopted hybrids,” Mr Garikai Sigauke, an agriculture economist with a local perspective, said. “Hybrids are a game change especially for countryside farmers.”
Cotton is one of Zimbabwe’s major cash crops and contributes significantly to economic growth and improved livelihoods among growers.
After slumping to a two-decade low of 28 000 tonnes in 2015, cotton production has since rebounded due to Government intervention through the Presidential Input Support Scheme, which provides free inputs. Poor prices had triggered loss of appetite for cotton farming.
Some farmers found themselves stuck with huge debts as the money they would have earned from selling their crop to contractors was not enough to repay the loans.
Government subsequently came up with the Presidential Cotton Inputs Scheme meant to support farmers with free inputs such as seed, fertilisers and chemicals.
The scheme is different from those previously run by private merchants when farmers were given inputs on a commercial basis, meaning they needed to repay after selling their crop.
Source: The Herald