Freedom Mutanda Chipinge Correspondent
Efforts to revive the country’s cotton industry might go down the drain as farmers here have threatened to abandon the crop following the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco)’s decision to pay them through groceries.
The farmers argued that buyers were reneging on an earlier agreement to pay them using United States dollars and local currency.
In a no-holds barred meeting held recently at Checheche Growth Point, the farmers said they were not getting value from their investments.
But Cottco managing director, Mr Pious Manamike, said the cotton company was not trampling on the farmers’ contracts, adding that farmers were not being forced to accept the grocery payments.
“We have been paying some of the farmers using groceries. We are not reneging on the contracts we entered with the farmers, but we are giving them a choice of either receiving cash or groceries.
“We had committed to pay the farmers in United States dollars, cash in local currency or through mobile transfers, but due to the liquidity crunch, we have been forced to opt for the groceries.
“We are not forcing anyone to take the groceries. Farmers can either take the groceries or wait for cash,” said Mr Manamike, although he could not shed more light on when the cash payments will be made.
He said farmers were asked to provide the list of groceries they wanted before they are availed.
“We are not short-changing them at all. Actually we thought we were doing our best in assisting the farmers get value from the sale of their cotton,” said Mr Manamike.
But Mr Noah Mashava, a young cotton farmer from Chinyamukwakwa, said he was shocked to receive a box of cooking oil as part of the payment for the cotton he delivered to Cottco.
“I wanted to get married this year after receiving my payment, but now I can’t. Where do I get the money to pay lobola? I appeal to the relevant authorities to address this issue urgently.
“I am contemplating switching to sesame because those who grew it are reaping good rewards,’’ said Mr Mashava.
Mrs Eness Khosa from Machona Village said she started growing cotton in 1998 when Cargill first came to Checheche.
“Things have changed and I can no longer send my children to school. If we continue on this path, this will spell doom for the cotton industry. We just want a reasonable pricing regime.
“No one was consulted before they sent groceries as payment for my cotton. I was given salt as payment and I don’t need it.
“The receipt they gave me does not even indicate the number of kilogrammes of the cotton I delivered. They are short-changing us. My child has to go to college and this grocery payment is a serious setback,’’ she said.
A headman from Mabee, Mr Samson Maivani, said Cottco should not short-change farmers.
Chief Mapuranga echoed similar sentiments, adding that all stakeholders must work together for the attainment of the country’s developmental agenda.
‘’As traditional leaders, we urge cotton farmers and merchants to reach a consensus. Reaching common ground is required for peace to prevail,’’ he said.
A horticulture expert and Arex officer, Mrs Mary Kafesu, urged farmers to study contracts carefully to avoid being duped by merchants.
She highlighted that farmers should be encouraged to continue producing cotton as quitting its production would negatively affect the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“Farmers should not stop growing cotton. There is need for continuous engagement until all stakeholders find a lasting solution,” she said.
The national chairperson of the Federal Cotton Producers Association (FCPA), Mr Naison Mutsananguro, said unity of purpose will bring good results for everyone.
‘’As farmers, we have to negotiate with cotton buying companies as a single body. This grocery payment is a smack in the face for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Manamike said the country was targeting to put 400 000 hectares under cotton this year as efforts to revive the cotton industry intensify.
The same target was set for the 2019-2020 season.
However, production was affected by drought which hit cotton producing areas like Chipinge, Muzarabani and Gokwe.