By Livingstone Marufu
Farmers have called for an overhaul of the country’s agriculture regulatory board, the Agriculture Marketing Authority (AMA), saying it has repeatedly failed to address the chaotic marketing of cotton.
This comes amid revelations that cotton contracted by Government was under threat as some private companies that have begun luring farmers into side-marketing.
There are fears the bulk of this year’s crop could end up in the hands of private buyers, despite Government funding more than 90 percent of cotton production under the Presidential Input Scheme.
Government, through the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, invested $62 million to support farmers while little financial resources came from private players.
However, investigations have shown that some private firms are already lining up to “reap where they didn’t sow”
The cotton selling season officially started yesterday.
It is understood that the AMA database is flawed amid indications that some firms inflated the size of hectarage funded, while in some instances, private merchants deliberately registered spouses and/ or children of farmers supported by Cottco so that they access the State sponsored crop.
AMA could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print yesterday.
However, Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) director Paul Zakariya, said it was time AMA started whipping private contractors into line to bring sanity in cotton marketing.
“There’s a need for an overhaul of AMA to prevent chaos in every marketing season of major crops such as cotton and curb side marketing. Government should take action on AMA to ensure that the board carries out its duties accordingly and ensure that farmers are not prejudiced in the process
“I don’t know why the authorities are taking long to address such issues as Government is the biggest loser in this game since $62 million worth of inputs under the Presidential Input Scheme may not be recovered due to side-marketing,” said Mr Zakariya.
Already some private companies are dispatching wool-packs in some areas of Gokwe where they did not provide inputs.
Even in some areas where Government has supported farmers with funds, private players have already moved in with packing material, making a strong case for AMA to raise the red flag.
Private firms lure farmers to sell their cotton to them mainly because they pay cash on the spot.
As the regulator, AMA is authorised to cause arrest and prosecute unscrupulous merchants for non-compliance and promoting side marketing and suspend licences held by errant merchants
However, because of allegations of bribery in the sector, some private companies operate at will, a move that could scupper the immediate revival of the cotton sector.
Mr Zakariya said as long as Government does not fund AMA and leaves it to solely depend on $30 000 registration fees from each private buyer, the regulator’s operations are open to manipulation.
Government has since warned that private cotton merchants found dabbling in side-marketing of cotton this current season face the full wrath of the law.
The authorities expressed grave concern over “poor funding” of the crop by the errant merchants and have held them responsible for the poor state of the sector in the recent past.
Authorities are moving to ensure that relevant agencies, including the Zimbabwe Republic Police and AMA would be on the ground to ensure orderly marketing.