Zim in bid to revive cotton farming

GOVERNMENT has removed fabric from the Open General Import Licence (OGIL) under Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 in a bid to revive the country’s dying cotton sector, a Cabinet minister said.

Industry minister Mike Bimha said cotton production had plunged from 41 000 metric tonnes last season to 10 800 metric tonnes this season on the back of an El Nino-induced dry spell and poor machinery in the sector.

“For us to protect the local industry from cheap imports, the ministry has removed second hand clothing, blankets and woven fabrics from the OGIL, whose importation in large quantities was threatening the viability and growth of the sector.

“Imports will be allowed only to the extent of the gap between local supply and local demand,” Bimha said at the recently held cotton indaba.

This comes as the African Development Bank (AfDB) recently named Zimbabwe in the top 10 African cotton producers of 2015, despite the falling hectarage for the crop’s production.

In a report, the AfDB said Zimbabwe had landed seventh place with 250 000 bales while Mali had come out the biggest cotton producer on the continent with over a million bales being produced.

“Zimbabwe stands to benefit more from the crop if it strengthens the cotton value chain so as to export value added cotton products unlike the current case where Zimbabwe exports raw cotton lint,” the AfDB said.
The International Cotton Advisory Committee however, expects the low world cotton prices to persist, taking the crop less attractive to other competing crops like maize and soya beans as genetically modified cotton emerges a viable option.

World cotton production is forecast to fall by six percent to 24,6 million tonnes this year, the lowest volume since 2010.

In the 2016 National budget, cotton production was allocated $9,9 million under the presidential input scheme, with growers receiving free inputs.

However, the Agricultural Marketing Authority (Ama) says cotton farmers and ginners face pricing problems which has led to the decline in the production of the crop.

Zimbabwean cotton yields about 17 000 plants per hectare, while other cotton farming countries produce from 45 000 up to  50 000 plants per hectare, achieving a 0,6 tonne yields per-tonne when other countries talk of 4 000 tonnes per-yield.

The cost of production is another issue farmers constantly highlight as a challenge, a bag of fertiliser in the country ranges from $35-$40.

In Zimbabwe, cotton ginners use a one-price-fits-all system for all grades of cotton.

Cotton used to be a strategic crop in the country as it was grown by about 250 000 smallholder farmers, although the 2014 report presented at the 73rd Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee shows that there are an estimated 170 000 small-scale cotton producers in Zimbabwe.

This represents an average 15 percent decline from 200 000 in the 2012/13 season.
Cotton contributed sustainably to rural incomes, rural development, employment and export earnings and was the mainstay of rural communities, resulting in the development of areas like Gokwe, Sanyati, Rushinga, Checheche, Muzarabani, Matepatepa in Bindura and Muzarabani.

The sector was a major source of livelihood for over one million people, including farmers, farm workers and the textile industry as it once contributed about 19 percent of the country’s agricultural export earnings. —Bianca Rugeje

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