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Give cotton farmers what belongs to them

WHEN he was Finance minister before the 2017 coup, Zanu PF bigwig Patrick Chinamasa popularised the phrase: “We must not kill the goose that lays the eggs”.

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Simply put, businesses need government support to grow and unlock more opportunities for people.

A case in point is the disaster that is unfolding in the cotton farming subsector. Rains started falling two weeks ago but over ZW$3 billion (US$36,6 million) has not been paid to farmers who delivered their produce many months ago. There is a clique of crooks calling itself “cotton merchants” who have operated as they pleased in the past decade. The State-run Cottco also operates in this space. There is every reason to suspect that these so-called “merchants” are assets of powerful and untouchable bigwigs because they have been left to cream off farmers of their hard earned money without consequence.

This year they made the unilateral decision to give farmers groceries to cool off the tempers while they played games with the farmers’ money. But these farmers are not kids. They are in business too. They want to buy inputs in time to return to work. It is annoying that there has been no word from the government in the wake of this clear manipulation and gamesmanship, which affects the economy.

By the time the ZW$3 billion is released, it will not have the same value as it had in August when farmers were shipping their cotton. It will be pocket money for the looters, given damaging inflation and rocketing prices. In the end, it is the small-scale farmer who loses.

Surely, this should be a deliberate tactic to force them to accept inputs from the same merchants who are exploiting them. Yet it is known that inputs from these contractors come with punitive demands and conditions that turn farmers into perpetual beggars.

They cannot return to the fields because they cannot buy inputs. They cannot buy Christmas goods for their families because they are simple peasants who will accept anything. The sad thing is, this is how Zimbabwe has killed enterprise.

This same wickedness has played out in the whole cotton value chain, with disastrous consequences. Cotton output has plummeted by over half in a decade, and it is likely to decline further.

Where is the giant David Whitehead Textiles Limited today, which employed 3 000 people? Cone Textiles, once the pride and joy of Zimbabwe that employed over 5 000 went belly up. Just a few years back 300 workers lost their jobs when Cottco went bust.

The list of failing enterprises is endless.

Cotton farmers hold the key to the survival of many fragile industries. The clothing and textile industry once employed 35 000 people; the headcount could be just 2 000 now.

The temptation is to blame imported fabric for this carnage. But no, there is so much that the government and the so-called merchants have messed up to leave this economy in the crisis that it faces today.

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