FORECASTS for the 2015/2016 cotton production season have indicated a 10 percent increase in seed cotton to 210 000 hectares due to anticipated increase in funding levels for contract cotton production by ginners and merchants.
The increase in area planted is also expected to increase production and recovery in yield levels after the drought conditions of the 2014/2015 season by 40 percent to 126 000 tonnes next year.
Seed cotton production declined by 34 percent from 136 000 tonnes last year, to 90 000 tonnes this year. This is the second lowest crop in the last two decades after 60 000 tonnes was harvested in the 1991/92 season also due to severe drought conditions.
The Global Agricultural Information Network Report (GAIN) suggests that production has declined as a result of the late start of the rainy season, the reduced inputs support by contractors and the undertaking by some farmers, particularly in high rainfall areas, to produce higher value crops.
Zimbabwe has the potential to produce 600 000 tonnes of cotton but over the years production has dwindled as a result of reduced investment and poor agronomic practices in the cotton sector.
Zimbabwe National Farmers Union vice-president Garikai Msika said cotton production had declined quite significantly and there was need to protect the country’s commodity through full beneficiation instead of exporting 99 percent of cotton lint.
“Investment in the cotton sector has gone down significantly and the only notable investment for the past two years has come from the Presidential Input Scheme, without which the sector would have been in the doldrums. The programme has played a significant role in sustaining cotton farmers,” Msika said.
He added that private players had taken a back seat yet they are the major beneficiaries of the cotton produced by farmers.
“China stocks on the international market have also had an adverse effect on production and pricing but there is need to focus on full beneficiation of our product.”
In the 2014/15 season, contractors invested US$14 million in crop inputs for contract cotton production, a reduction of 56 percent compared to US$32 million invested in the 2013/14.
According to the GAIN report Zimbabwe has 22 ginneries and 750 000 tonnes installed ginning capacity available. Current seed cotton production is well below the country’s ginning capacity and for two consecutive seasons, cotton production has been less than 20 percent of the national ginning capacity.
The ginners aim to improve the usage of ginning capacity to around 70 percent in the next five years. However, if the current low international lint prices persist, it may discourage farmers from planting cotton.”
The major reasons for the decline in planted area has been the reduction in inputs support by ginners and merchants, due to poor recovery of loans from contracted farmers because of side-marketing, including low cotton seed prices of US$0,30 per kg in comparison with other cash crops also resulted in farmers shifting to more lucrative crops, significantly reducing seed cotton planted area.
Sustained losses have resulted in some contractors, either pulling out of the sector, or scaling back on inputs investments.
Yield per hectare in 2014/15 decreased to 474 kg/ha from 544 kg/ha in the 2013/14 season.
As the 2015 cotton marketing year come to a close, there are suggestions in the industry of offering farmers an advance payment and payment of the actual prices after grading. This would encourage proper grading and enhance seed cotton quality. Currently, there is no price stabilisation and no stable price setting system in the country to address international price volatility.
Uncontrolled market price volatility threatens security of income of both farmers and ginners and impacts negatively on future cotton production. The Zimbabwe Cotton-to-Clothing Strategy (2014-2019) suggests the establishment of a cotton stabilisation fund that would assist in reducing pricing risk to both farmers and ginners and thus increase viability in the sector.
Despite the challenges in the cotton sector, Msika called for the protection of the cotton sector and the protection of the commodity itself through the viability of the textile manufacturing and clothing retail sector.