BUSI Matutu is fed up with cotton farming. The past year has not been as rewarding as she expected.
With no adequate funding to grow the cash crop in Gokwe, she has now switched to maize production.
Thanks to the assistance from humanitarian aid agencies that provided inputs, she will be able to harvest enough to at least meet her subsistence needs and earn income in the midst of a looming food shortage due to drought.
“This year, I’m not growing cotton,” she declares. “I did not get enough money to meet my daily needs after I grew 230kgs of cotton last year. Buyers who supplied us with inputs offered us US$0,20 a kg. But we were expecting US$0,50.”
The cotton crop, now budding in most parts of Gokwe, is a drought-resistant crop that requires costly inputs beyond the reach of many communal farmers.
Matutu says unlike maize that is tradable with other commodities, cotton has few takers on the market. This she added has made her grow maize and other small grains when the country is expecting food shortages in most provinces.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation has already advised government to “promptly” set up 500 000 metric tonnes strategic grain reserves to mitigate the staple food shortages.
Matutu is one of the thousands of beneficiaries who have benefited from non-governmental organisations’ farming projects that promote self-sustenance.
Her decision to quit cotton farming comes at a time when hectarage for cotton has declined and farmers have opted to grow maize for which they anticipate better prices due to the food shortage.
An official crop and livestock assessment report released last month shows that hectarage for the maize crop increased to 1 723 990 ha making it 14% higher than the previous year, while that for cotton dropped to 261 191 ha from 316 656 ha recorded last year.
The decline in the cotton area planted, according to the report, resulted from lack of comprehensive input support following the scaling down of input-support programmes by cotton companies.
Poor producer prices paid last season, the report further stated, resulted in farmers failing to realise significant benefits from cotton production.
“I have benefited from the conservation farming project being carried out by German Agro Action and my income will double this year through conservation agriculture,” said Matutu, a Nemangwe (Gokwe) communal farmer.
Conservation agriculture is an agricultural practice being sponsored by the European Union and is run by several aid agencies. German Agro Action and Concern Zimbabwe are assisting several poor families in Gokwe that have no draught power to till the land. Some farmers visited by the Zimbabwe Independent this week are practising conservation agriculture to also grow cotton.
The “main focus” of the practice according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Agriculture Task Force is to improve yields and income, food security and livelihoods through optimising land use based on timely land preparations and improved crop management.
Renson Gasela, a prominent commercial farmer in Midlands, says most Gokwe farmers could be leaving cotton farming after breaching contracts with cotton companies.
“Some of the farmers could have been side marketing,” Gasela said. “They may not have been honouring contracts or rather avoiding companies that provide inputs for them. A large number of farmers that are leaving cotton farming for other crops might have side marketed and can no longer get inputs.”
Gasela said the perennial disagreements between farmers and merchants over prices would continue to be there. “We have always preferred it had been more,” he said.
He observed that while cotton production in Gokwe could slightly drop this season, the lowveld, Chisumbanje, Chiredzi are expected to increase production.
Zimbabwe grows cotton for local and international markets.
More than half of Midlands, according to Gasela who is a former Grain Marketing Board general manager, will not yield much. But he said Mashonaland East, West and parts of Central were likely to produce a relatively better harvest.