Martin Kadzere Senior Business Reporter
SOME cotton farmers in the Lowveld have started planting — several weeks earlier than is usual — as early tillage of their fields has afforded them a quick start to fieldwork.
In the Lowveld region — one of Zimbabwe’s largest cotton producing areas — the farmers, who usually plant in December and in some instances in January, are expected to take advantage of the early rains, thereby raising prospects for better yields. The farmers are beneficiaries of the Government’s contract cotton farming scheme meant to stimulate cotton production by providing inputs to mostly peasant farmers.
Running its fourth consecutive year — the programme — which has benefited thousands of households is being administered by The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe.
Since its inception, Cottco’s intake has risen to 128 000 tonnes this year from 10 000 tonnes in 2015 — the lowest production since 1992. This has boosted national output, which rose sharply to 142 000 tonnes, from about 28 000 tonnes three years ago.
This year, exports from processed cotton, known as lint, are expected to rake in $85 million.
This year, the company introduced the tillage services to assist high potential farmers and those without draught power.
“We are doing at least one hectare for farmers who we have identified,” Cottco area manager for Jerera Mr Crispen Magwede said.
Farmers in Checheche expressed satisfaction with the assistance they are getting from Cottco saying early sowing of the seed had enhanced prospects for better yields.
“In the previous years, I would have waited for others with cattle (for draught power) to finish their fields before I could get assistance. With this programme, my field is planted and I have already planted meaning my crop will benefit from early rains,” Ms Shiela Dhliwayo, a widow in Checheche said.
Another farmer Mr Trybest . . . commended Cottco for coming up with the tillage programme as well as timely distribution of the inputs.
“This programme is getting better every year and this will translate to sustained turnaround of the industry.”
During the visit, the farmers could be seen preparing their land and have already destroyed stalks to reduce pest populations as they wait for the rains. At various cotton distribution points, each was receiving a 10kg bag of seed as well as basal and top dressing fertiliser. Later on, the farmers will also receive chemicals and the sprayers.
Cottco business manager for the Lowveld Mr Munyaradzi Chikasha said the distribution of inputs was going smoothly with the business unit on course to meet the target.
“Distribution of inputs is going on well and this should help farmers to prepare and plant on time.
“Our field extension officers are also working with farmers to help them with best farming practices in line with our quest to improve productivity,” said Mr Chikasha.
Cotton, a drought resistant crop is mostly grown in the low rainfall receiving areas such as Chiredzi, Gokwe and Muzarabani. With Cottco earmarking about 400 000 households this year, the company is targeting growers in new and traditional cotton growing areas where production had stopped due to viability issues.
The company also launched the programme in Matabeleland Province which holds potential for cotton production.