Zimbabwe’s major cotton seed producer Quton, has released new cotton hybrid seed with a higher yield potential compared to current non hybrid varieties, in a move that is set to revive the country’s cotton sector that has been on the decline for years.

Speaking at the launch of the new cotton seed hybrids in Harare recently, Quton managing director Edworks Mhandu, said his company is releasing the hybrid varieties after conducting successful trials in partnership with the Cotton Research Institute in various parts of the country.

He said the results of research had shown that the hybrid seeds, which generally require less water had a yield potential of 20-25 percent higher than non – hybrid seeds.

“The new cotton hybrid seed is going to revolutionise the country’s cotton sector through improved yields and improved livelihoods for farmers. Our vision is not ending with hybrids only, but we want to go further into biotechnology to enhance the competitiveness of Zimbabwe’s cotton sector. It’s now possible for breeders to introduce new varieties in 6 to 7 years instead of 15 years. We are introducing these varieties with the main objective of increasing productivity and enhanced incomes for cotton farmers.”

Quton, the country’s sole cotton seed producer in collaboration with the Cotton Research Institute, conducted trials over the last two cropping seasons to develop highly adaptable and high-yielding cotton varieties to enhance the country’s competitiveness on the world market.

The company released its C567, C571 and C608 cotton hybrid varieties, which broadly have large bolls, very high oil and protein content as well as good fibre quality compared to the QM301 open variety. With good agronomic conditions and practices, the C571 and C567 varieties can yield about 5 500kg per hectare while the drought tolerant C608 can yield some 4 000kg per hectare.

Quton breeders say the figures could be higher depending on soil and other agronomic conditions. They say the hybrid varieties have a potential for 60 bolls per plant. Quton and the Cotton Research Institute conducted trials in the 2015/ 16 and 2016 /2017 cropping seasons in main cotton growing regions — Gokwe, Sanyati, Muzarabani, Bindura and other areas.

“Our trials were a huge success and I’m optimistic that these new varieties will gain acceptance and improve the livelihoods of cotton farmers,” said Mr Mhandu.

“The cotton sector had gone on a downward spiral for several years. The question was, what do we do to increase productivity. These cotton hybrid varieties could help us increase our return per hectare and help our farmers to retain interest in growing cotton. Quton is working flat out to ensure our farmers get some economic benefits from the seed. If farmers are happy with their returns, then we know we are going to get business.”

Quton is already training thousands of farmers in major cotton growing regions of the country on how to grow these new varieties. Training was also done during trials to help build the capacity of farmers to grow cotton hybrid seeds.

Quton cotton breeders say a shift to the use of less water tolerant seeds would help offset challenges related to unpredictable rainfall patterns resulting from climate change.

India’s leading agri-biotech company Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, acquired a controlling stake in Quton in 2014 from Seed Co in a transaction worth $10 million. The acquisition gave the Indian firm a platform to introduce hybrid seeds to Africa. The foray into African market is expected to strengthen Quton and Mahyco’s positioning in the global cotton market.

Quton also has operations in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia where cotton hybrid seeds have also been undergoing trials. These countries too, predominantly use open pollinated varieties.

Mahyco is working to introduce these hybrids in seven other African countries.
Quton breeders say the new varieties have a potential to transform cotton production through improved viability for farmers, increased cotton hectarage and increased national cotton output.

“Hybrids will certainly attract farmers back into cotton growing in Zimbabwe because of improved yields per hectare,” said a breeder.

More than 180 000 small-scale farmers are growing cotton to sustain their livelihoods but falling world cotton lint prices, rising production costs and low returns have continued to subdue cotton production in Zimbabwe and most other African countries. About 98 percent of the cotton grown in Zimbabwe is exported in its raw form.

Zimbabwe’s cotton production has dropped from an estimated 400 000 tonnes annually at its peak a few years ago to 200 000 tonnes now.

The decline has been attributed to a combination of factors, lack of suitable hybrid varieties, including lower prices for the crop and drought.

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