Government will take over provision of extension services to cotton farmers from contractors in the 2023/24 cropping season in a move meant to reduce the cost of production and allow farmers to get better seed cotton prices when the white gold is marketed later.
Announcing the proposed cotton production enhancement and marketing arrangement recently, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Dr Anxious Masuka said Government had instituted measures meant to cut on production costs and stimulate productivity.
“Cottco will dismantle their parallel extension system with immediate effect and the extension for everyone will be provided by Government so as to cut on costs and pay farmers high prices. Contractors can then capacitate Agritex to provide better extension to their farmers,” said Dr Masuka.
Agricultural extension officers are intermediaries between research and farmers who operate as facilitators and communicators, helping them in their decision-making and ensuring that appropriate knowledge is implemented to obtain the best results with regard to sustainable production and general rural development.
Dr Masuka said there was need for complementarity and cooperation among contractors through the establishment of joint farmer field schools in all cotton production areas.
“Now that inputs will be distributed from one common distribution point under the purview of the Government input distribution committee, additional costs will be removed from contractors.
“My expectation is that you pass on this benefit to growers through better prices, as part of your previous cost item has been absorbed by Government. We want a marketing system that reduces costs to the contractor and pass on the benefit to growers,” added Dr Masuka.
Contractors had raised concerns that some rural district councils (RDCs) were charging high fees and levies of up to US$25 000 per district while the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) was charging licencing fees of between US$10 000 and US$25 000.
In the spirit of ease of doing business and growing the cotton sector, RDCs and AMA were directed by Dr Masuka to drastically reduce the charges by November 30 through engagements with all stakeholders.
“The proposed cotton production and marketing arrangements will enhance accountability, improve grower viability through uniform extension and advisory services, reduce side-marketing, improve the operating environment of contractors, while constantly growing the sector,” said Dr Masuka.
Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development permanent secretary Professor Obert Jiri said a job rationalisation exercise for agronomists within Agritex was meant to lower costs and bring efficiency in seed cotton production, but no job cuts would occur.
The Government has over the years been capacitating extension staff with ICT gadgets aimed at providing real time data and global positioning system (GPS) coordinates.
The staff has also been provided with motorcycles and vehicles.
Meanwhile, Cotton Council of Zimbabwe chief executive officer Engineer Chris Murove said the move by Government was noble but it remained to be seen if contractors would play ball come the marketing.
In the 2022/23 cotton production season, Government introduced a grade-based payment system to incentivise production of better-quality crop.
Grade A received a price of US$0,46 per kg, while B got US$0,43 and Grade C US$0,41, with Grade D getting US$0,40