When cotton — Zimbabwe’s white gold — production declined in major growing areas in the country over the past few decades, so did processors, cooperatives alongside other key value chain actors who had kept the wheels of the cotton industry turning. All this rendered farmers destitute and brought economic activity at small towns and rural business centres to a halt. But moves by the Government to inject life into the ailing cotton industry through the rolling out of the Pfumvudza agricultural cotton scheme targeting some 520 000 households across the country will spur the production of the white cash crop. In this report, Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor Sifelani Tsiko (ST) speaks to Pious Manamike (PM), managing director of the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (COTTCO) which is managing the logistics of this massive programme. Mr Manamike speaks on how sustained efforts to revive the sector will stimulate the dormant textile and apparel industry as well as boost economic growth.
ST: Following the successful roll-out of the Pfumvudza scheme on maize and other small grains in the past two cropping seasons, the Government announced that it will roll out a Presidential Cotton Input Scheme to increase cotton production. Can you tell us more about the scheme — the aim, target and expected production levels?
PM: Pfumvudza cotton is a climate proofing technique that will ensure that the cotton crop accesses the moisture and nutrients thereby improving yields for the farmers. The scheme is targeting 520 000 households who will do a quarter of a hectare using an inputs package that was applied on a hectare.
ST: Do you think the Presidential cotton input scheme can stir the country’s cotton production levels? If so, how is Cottco going to collaborate with other key partners to promote the uptake of the scheme?
PM: Pfumvudza cotton will improve yields and production as there is improved nutrition on the plant and focused attention by the farmer on a smaller piece of land. All this and riding on the back of the success of Pfumvudza for maize and traditional grains, will certainly stimulate cotton farming and the economic activity that comes with cotton marketing and processing.
ST: Smallholder farmers often lack draught power. Has Cottco acquired any tractors and machinery to assist farmers in the production of cotton?
PM: Cottco has been running a tillage programme for three years now using a fleet of dedicated tractors. So yes, our tillage programme will come in handy for those that lack draught power.
ST: Government has mobilised 5 000 motorcycles to enable agricultural extension workers to carry out their work more effectively. How do you see this helping cotton growers to increase their output in terms of technical backstopping and coaching?
PM: The mobility of Government extension staff will complement our own Cottco extension staff and this will result in better coverage and contact with the farmers. The result will be better supervision and proper technical support to the farmers.
ST: There are some critics who have raised concerns over the Presidential Input scheme, making all sorts of allegations against it. How has Zimbabwe benefited in terms foreign currency earnings from exports between 2016 when the programme started and up to 2018 as well as in the 2020-2021 cropping season?
PM: The Presidential Input Scheme has helped in the resuscitation of the cotton industry which is a major source of employment for the farmers. Financially, cotton has been bringing in an average of US$70 million annually. Earnings have grown from US$11 million in 2016 up to US$70 million at present and benefits have accrued along the value chain and around the cotton production ecosystem.
ST: How much has Zimbabwe saved from the use of local ginned seed in cooking oil and stock feed manufacturing?
PM: The foreign currency savings from the use of local ginned seed is about US$15 million annually. Utilisation of ginned seed for cooking oil and stock feed remains on a growth trajectory.
ST: Cotton is one of Zimbabwe’s major cash crops and contributes to economic growth and improved livelihoods among growers. After production hit a low in the 2015/16 agricultural season when 28,000 tonnes were produced, how have production levels moved from then up to now — in the 2020-2021 cropping seasons? How are production and financial levels moving for the country?
PM: National production has been steadily going up with occasional dips in drought years. We expect a harvest of over 120 000 metric tonnes this current season.
ST: Zimbabwe exports around 70 percent of its lint while the remainder is consumed locally? What scope is there for value addition to further enhance the country’s earnings and opportunities? Tell us briefly about the Cottco-AfroRun venture.
PM: Current spinning capacity cannot absorb the 30 percent earmarked for the local industry and there is so much room to value addition along the textile value chain. Cottco has been toll spinning with Afrorun in Norton for two years now. On lint that’s where there is an opportunity to expand value addition.
ST: Pricing and side-marketing remain a major problem for the cotton industry. How is Cottco and its stakeholders addressing some of the problems? What measures do you think can help to cushion growers against the vagaries of international markets?
PM: The current pricing model is such that farmers are getting a very good price where Government is giving a price subsidy since last year. This model ensures that farmers are not exposed to the unstable international prices.
ST: At its peak, Zimbabwe used to produce an average of 250 000 tonnes of seed cotton per season before production levels plummeted owing to poor prices, support and other factors. Cotton was a major driver of economic activity from growing areas, ginning points in Kadoma, Chegutu and Norton up to processing and manufacturing of clothes. Can you share with us the current spin-offs which you are seeing due to the revival of the sector?
PM: The cotton industry is a key catalyst and driver of economic development in rural areas. Apart from the financial benefits that accrue to the farmers, the entire ecosystem and local economies are benefiting from cotton production and this include, but not limited to local authorities, banks, shops, transporters and schools. Cotton growing has huge spin-offs, between US$10 million and US$15 million can be pumped into one area in two months. It brings so much economic activity.
ST: Some critics charge that the Presidential Input Scheme for cotton is not sustainable. What is your comment on this? How do you see the sector evolving from subsidies up to self-sustaining levels? Is this scenario of subsidies peculiar to Zimbabwe alone?
PM: It’s true that you cannot sustain the growth of an industry based on subsidies. As Cottco, our efforts to bring in high yielding varieties is to ensure that the farmers become financially viable from high yields where they will have capacity to pay back loans. We need to promote a sustainable business farming model for cotton.