Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made yesterday said Government will soon announce the much-awaited cotton prices for this season, which will be above 50 cents per kilogramme.
Speaking in an interview with The Herald, Dr Made pre-empted that cotton farmers should brace for the most lucrative cotton season ever, as the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco), which availed inputs to over 155 000 farmers under the Presidential Free Inputs Scheme, will be paying not less than 50 cents per kg for Grade A cotton.
Dr Made re-emphasised that stiff penalties had been set for farmers and companies taking part in side marketing of Government-funded cotton.
He said the Agriculture Marketing Authority and Cottco should establish more buying points, as no farmer would be allowed to transport their cotton for more than five kilometres to the nearest buying point.
Most cotton farmers abandoned cotton production over the past seasons in protest against poor prices offered by merchants, which were as low as 30 cents per kilogramme.
Dr Made said Government was finalising the new prices to be paid for different grades of cotton this season.
“This is being done in consultation with Treasury, which is the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank,” he said.
“What I can only pre-empt to the cotton farmer is that Grade A cotton will fetch not less that 50 cents this season.
“Remember, they received inputs for free and they will just start in profit. This time Cottco will not be allowed to stagger payments to cotton farmers.
“The price which Government will gazette must be paid fully to the farmer. Grade A cotton will be fetching the highest, while (Grade) B will be second.”
Dr Made urged banks to start visiting farmers to help them open accounts, while explaining the modern trends of plastic money use.
“I want to emphasise that farmers must open bank accounts,” he said.
“We have already directed Agribank, POSB, CBZ and other private banks to visit farmers and help them embrace the use of plastic money.
“We are again pleading with them to be out there, particularly Agribank, so that even farmers who are delivering nothing either to GMB or Cottco will just have a bank account opened.”
Dr Made said Government intended to double the hectarage which they will support through Cottco next season, which is now at 300 000 hectares.
“We want to expand our cotton production capacity next season,” he said.
“We urge farmers to register with Cottco for next season when the buying points open. Even those who did not join the programme this season, they are free to register the number of hectares which they will devote to cotton and this will help us source adequate inputs timely.”
Dr Made said no private company would be allowed to buy cotton if it did not fully fund contracted farmers.
“My warning to private companies which did not fund cotton fully this year is ‘don’t go to the market and I repeat don’t’,” he said.
“We are very serious about it. Remember cotton is a vital crop for income earnings, employment creation and a foreign currency earner.
“We made a mistake as Government to allow everyone to just come into the cotton industry and this resulted in the destruction of the whole industry, they exploited farmers and we want to stop that.”
Dr Made said Government was prepared to work with private cotton merchants who shared the same vision of uplifting the farmer.
“We need private companies who have learnt, these will be allowed to operate,” he said.
“Our point is that companies must be allowed to operate, but only if they are funding farmers fully, we are not joking about it.”