The Sunday Mail
With declining numbers of people growing cotton — a key foreign currency earner for the nation — a local company has unveiled a new cotton variety, which has the potential of doubling yields relative to current seed varieties.
Southern Cotton, which is wholly owned by Zimbabweans and runs two ginneries in Shamva and Sanyati, says it has unveiled the May 505 and May 344 varieties of cotton seed.
“The two varieties can produce between 5000 and 6000 kg of cotton per every hectare, compared to the 1500 kg to 2000kgs that current seed varieties produce,” said the company’s operations manager, Mr Kudakwashe Mabonga.
“As financers of cotton, we heeded the call by local farmers that a labour-intensive pursuit like cotton farming was no longer lucrative, especially with the low yields per hectare, and there was need for us to help farmers by developing a variety that would bring better yields, hence our smart partnership with K2 in our synergy, birthing these two new varieties,” said Mr Mabonga.
With a footprint in Muzarabani, Gokwe, Mushumbi, Hoya, Checheche, Mutoko, Rushinga, the company has managed to finance over 60 000 hectares of cotton in the current cropping season.
With the introduction of better varieties, yields in the next season are expected to grow.
Over and above the assistance they give in financing dry-land small and medium farmers, Southern Cotton has also managed to fill an emerging gap, helping complement Government by having extension officers in all their areas of operations.
“These extension officers are managed by area officers who ensure that farmers get as much help as they can get to ensure a successful farming season every year. We also have programmes with commercial farmers; for example, Mr Drummond in Muzarabani.
“Next year, 30 more commercial farmers are joining our programme with a view to ensuring a collective 5000-hectare cover amongst commercial farmers,” added Mr Mabonga.
Currently, plans are underway to set up yet another ginnery in Chiredzi, which has already been acquired.
“We are just finishing the land agreements with Chiredzi Rural District Council after which we will set up and start operations.
“We want to see cotton return to its former glory and truly be called white gold, where it will garner earnings for both the farmer and his household on one hand and the nation by way of foreign currency on the other,” he said.
Cotton on the rebound
Last year, Zimbabwe’s cotton deliveries reached 100 000 tonnes – surpassing 2017’s national output of 74 000 tonnes, official statistics from the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe revealed, indicating a positive movement towards recovery.
At its peak in 2013, the country produced 352 000 tonnes of cotton, but plummeted in recent years chiefly due to poor funding and pricing, resulting in many farmers venturing into tobacco farming.
However, with challenges being faced in the tobacco sector, chief among them price fixing and manipulation, market watchers say sooner or later many farmers will revert to cotton.
At 100 000 tonnes in 2018, Cottco’s production is about 1000 percent up in three seasons, having risen from about 10 000 tonnes in 2015 /16 season to 54 000 tonnes in 2016 /17 season
Most farmers had switched to other cash crops due to poor prices and lack of adequate support from companies.
The cotton industry remains strategic to Zimbabwe’s economy.
It sustains about 400 000 households and has potential to generate significant foreign currency. However, the sector almost collapsed as a result of shortages in agricultural implements and inadequate agronomic support. Increased side-marketing and poor debt recovery in the past few years have also proved problematic. In 2015, output fell to 28 000 tonnes, the lowest since 1992.