Martin Kadzere Senior Business Reporter
SEVERAL cotton farmers contracted by Parrogate in the Lowveld and Manicaland areas have expressed displeasure with the poor and inadequate input package being provided by the company.
The farmers who spoke to The Herald Business said there had been a continuous disregard of their concerns by Parrogate and as such they have now turned to Government for help. Those interviewed were unanimous in their conviction that poor input support programmes by Parrogate and some private companies were among the reasons behind the collapse of the industry in recent years.
Such claims also give credence to assertions by analysts that some private companies are not providing adequate inputs just to warrant their presence at buying points.
When it comes to buying, those who would have provided inadequate inputs are seen everywhere even in areas they would have not invested. This has been the major driver of side marketing.
The cotton sector, which supports about 400 000 households, had virtually collapsed with production declining to record lows at 30 000 tonnes last season, the lowest since 1992.
This season, the Government came up with a $50 million inputs package but fears are growing that it could lose the bulk of the contracted crop through side marketing.
Based on distributed seeds, the minimum crop size would be around 110 000 tonnes.
Already, there are growing concerns that some private companies might have overstated cotton inputs they gave to farmers to obtain buying licenses during the selling season.
Information obtained from various common distribution points in most cotton growing areas shows that the actual inputs distributed by most private companies could be way below what was declared to the Agriculture and Marketing Authority and the mismatch could point to possible connivance between AMA officials and private merchants.
Government is spending close to $50 million to finance the cotton crop but concerns are growing that the bulk of the crop could end up in the hands of private players.
Last week, Parrogate area chairman for Vheneka village near Checheche Mr Noah Bhebhe explained how the company had short-changed farmers it had contracted this season.
“Our problems started way back in November when they gave us seed that did not properly germinate,” said Mr Bhebhe. “We complained but they did not take any action.
“We had to ask for some small portions of seeds from those who had benefited from the Government scheme, which we complemented with seed left over from last year.
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“However, we still registered with AMA as Parrogate farmers hoping that they will provide chemicals and fertilisers, as they had promised. Since then, we have not received fertilisers.
“Recently, they came with some chemicals and each farmer received only one bottle despite the planted hectarage. They told us that Parrogate is a private firm and is unable to provide inputs like what the Government is doing.
“Surely, if we had known, we would not have signed any contracts with Parrogate. Now our situation is so desperate and we are now appealing for help from the Government.
“They have no basis to claim any bale of cotton from us since their seed did not germinate.”
Parrogate operations director Mr Jonas Chindanya said their level of support was guided by the company’s policy of minimising and controlling the exposure of investment risks.
He said financing crop production was not its core business, saying farmers should appreciate the support they were receiving.
“Ideally, they (farmers) should establish their crop and we as ginners should buy but there is a vacuum (financing gap),” he said.
On the distribution of inputs, he said the company was “staggering distribution to manage our exposure”.
Farmer Mrs Lucy Dhliwayo accused Parrogate of violating contractual agreement by asking them to buy own inputs yet it would still claim a share of the crop from them.
“If we had money we wouldn’t have entered into contracts with them,” said Mrs Dhliwayo.
Another farmer, Mr Gift Simango, made a passionate appeal to Government to assist with the chemicals to save their crop from bollworm attack.
“We thought Parrogate would help but has let us down and as farmers we can’t continue working with them,” said Mr Simango.
Cotton Producers and Marketers Association secretary general Mr Stewart Mubonderi said there was need to conduct a national validation programme to determine the level of input support by private companies. This would go a long way in curbing side marketing.
“We need to work with all stakeholders to conduct a national validation programme so that all side marketing loopholes are eliminated before the selling season,” he said.
“We need to go on the ground using a database from AMA. We have heard stories about private companies alleged to have inflated the numbers of farmers they contracted. We also hear of ghost farmers. We are still investigating these issues and we urge AMA as the regulator to ensure these issue are resolved.”
During the previous season, the Government invested about $26 million towards cotton production and the bulk of the crop was meant to be purchased by The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which has since been taken over by the Government.
Instead, Cottco only purchased about 10 tonnes from the total crop production of almost 30 tonnes. Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Joseph Made has since warned private companies against interfering in the buying of State-sponsored cotton.
In an interview with ZBC News last week, Dr Made declared all cotton grown under the Presidential Cotton Input Support Scheme a State commodity which should be sold to Cottco.
Analysts are of the view that there is need for a pragmatic approach which acknowledges the failure of the existing production and marketing model, in the absence of input support from the State. They said there is need for fundamental change to the existing model until a viable solution has been found. The co-ordinating device for industry stakeholders is the place that cotton occupies in rural communities as a vehicle for economic empowerment and downstream industries which feed on it.
“There is need for a radical paradigm shift in order to embrace sustainable production and marketing of cotton.
“As a country, we are well within our powers to craft and enforce policies which drive sustainable cotton production,” said one analyst.