Zimbabwe’s cotton is mainly produced by small scale farmers with an estimated 300 000 households scattered across the country accounting for over 98% of the annual yield. However, for more than 7 years now, international cotton prices have gone down significantly forcing cotton merchants to offer prices below cost of production. Through policy advocacy and several engagements, meetings and representations locally and beyond, small scale cotton farmers with the assistance from Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) (an AGS partner) have managed to command change. On behalf of the cotton farmers, ZIMCODD in collaboration with Lower Guruve Development Association (LGDA) convened a National Cotton Stakeholders Round Table in June 2012.
75 stakeholders (which included the Ministers of Parliament, Chiefs, and Representatives from Agricultural Marketing Authority, Civil Society and the Ministry of Agriculture came together in a bid to find a solution to the price impasse. Further debate on cotton was brought to Parliament Portfolio on Agriculture.
There has been a long stalemate between farmers and the merchants on the prizes of cotton. The small scale farmers under the Input Credit Scheme remained optimistic and defiant to all threats and held on to their produce. The credit scheme is a contract farming arrangement that binds farmers to sell 100% of their produce to Cottco which gives them the input on credit at whatever prize Cottco sets. Normally the contract is silent on purchase prize-which is then decided at point of sale. Throughout the country, the farmers stood in one-accord and opted to keep the crop and let it lie to waste rather than give it away. In Matabeleland North, farmers had resorted to stowing their cotton in mosquito nets, bed sheets, buckets and granaries as Cottco had failed to provide them with packing materials.
… As you can see some of us have moved from our bedrooms so that we can store the cotton in our beds and everywhere else as we don’t know what to do with it…we are risking getting malaria as we have also used the mosquito nets donated to us as containers said MaNxumalo one of the farmers.
Due to the crisis emanating from the liberalization of Cotton Sector, which lead to declining prizes, the farmers came together to speak with one voice demanding utilitarian prices. Since 2005, the small scale cotton farmers have formed Associations, i.e. National Association, the Federation of Cotton Producers Association of Zimbabwe, District Associations (which has also strengthened farmers in defending their livelihoods). Farmers continue to organize themselves and have plans to expand to other areas beyond current communities.
As an outcome, the Government enacted Statutory Instrument 106A 2012 which will see cotton become a controlled commodity. The instrument compels the government to be the sole buyer of cotton. The Government’s move is in response to the impasse between cotton farmers and ginners over prices, where the latter was offering between 30 and 50 cents per kg. After various engagements and debates, the government of Zimbabwe has finally (July 2012) gazetted the Cotton prize at US77 cents per kg for grade D, US79 cents for grade C, US81 cents for grade B and US84 cents for grade A, which the farmers welcomed.
The last kicks of a dying horse: Just when they thought the war is over, some of the farmers had their strides tangled-up when Cottco started attaching property as a debt recovery scheme for the money owed for the inputs for the 2011-2012 cropping season. Cottco entered into contracts with individual farmers on the understanding that they would in turn sell their produce to it at USD 22 cents, despite the input cost of 56 cents per kg which most farmers disputed.
Some of us have been refusing with our property and we attacked some of the Cottco officials who had come to our village taking away our goats and chickens said Moyo. One of the villagers said Cottco officials took away 5 chickens and a blanket from her home.