The Government has assured cotton farmers that they would be paid their outstanding dues for the crop delivered this season.
Most cotton companies, including the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, which administers the Presidential Free Inputs Scheme, had to resort to a voluntary payment scheme where farmers were paid in form of groceries, farm implements, productive assets and household goods. This is partly because most cotton farmers only had mobile money accounts and were reluctant to open bank accounts.
Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Deputy Minister, Douglas Karoro, on Tuesday said the Government, which is the largest financier of the crop, would also resolve challenges related to payments experienced this season after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe suspended bulk mobile payments on suspicion that they were being used to fuel foreign currency transactions.
This year’s producer price, at $43,90 per kilogramme and probably the highest in the world, made it difficult for banks to provide lines of credit to cotton companies. At the time the price was announced, it was equivalent to US$1,76 per kg. Over and above that, merchants were required to pay US$10 per bale weighing 200kg. The Treasury, which indicated that it would provide a subsidy, has not yet released the funds. In total, the farmers are owed about $4 billion.
“We have heard testimonies from people who benefitted from the voluntary scheme, and I emphasise voluntary,” said Deputy Minister Karoro.
“Indeed, they are quite happy and we would like to applaud Cottco for being innovative. But those who opted to be paid cash, you will be eventually paid.
“We do appreciate that there are things where we cannot avoid the need of cash and we are rectifying that. So, we encourage farmers to open bank accounts so that the money can be deposited into your accounts. The Government and Cottco will facilitate the opening of these bank accounts so that you will not bear the burden of travelling.
“We don’t want you to be discouraged. So, we are urging all farmers to go back to the fields,” he added
Deputy Minister Karoro said the Presidential Inputs Scheme, since its launch in 2015, has empowered thousands of households around the country, adding farmers should now focus on productivity. He said the introduction of the moisture conservation tillage programme by Cottco last season, which is being intensified this year, came at the right time when the country is battling the devastating effects of climate change. Conservation tillage is a generic term that covers systems that reduce loss of soil and water compared with conventional methods.
Droughts associated with climate change have seen southern Africa experiencing severe droughts over the past few years, hurting agricultural production and threatening food security. Deputy Minister Karoro said the new hybrid seed, introduced last season, was a game changer in terms of improving yields. He also told farmers to desist from inputs abuse and ensure they are put to proper use. Cottco, working with an Indian firm, has introduced hybrid cotton seeds with massive potential to boost the country’s production threefold.
The firm is also enticing large scale farmers with access to irrigation water to join its programme to ensure a sustained recovery programme.
Zimbabwe is known for growing non genetically modified and clean cotton that is handpicked compared to other countries in the same sector.