GOVERNMENT is increasing its clampdown on cotton side marketing and threatened those involved with prison time. The surge in side marketing comes amid a delay in clearing a backlog to farmers for deliveries of the “white gold”.

Farmers are owed US$3,2 million by the country’s largest cotton producer, Cottco Holdings Limited (Cottco).

This failure has pushed cotton farmers to sell their crops elsewhere.

Speaking at the 2022/23 Cotton Grower of the Year awards last week, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement deputy minister Vangelis Haritatos said that side marketers would be brought to book.

“Reports of side production and abuse of inputs have been reaching my office, and the full wrath of the law will catch up with these culprits. It is also important for our farmers to understand that regardless of the seed variety that is supplied, good agronomic practices must always be followed to attain the maximum yield and quality possible,” he said.

“I am informed by my management that there have been some delays in ginning, an upliftment of product which is continuing to the end of April. This has slightly delayed the initial target date of clearing the farmer payments by March as initially promised. However, 90% of the US$ have been paid amounting to US$20,5 million, an equivalent of US$2,8 million remained in Zimbabwe dollars.”

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He said for the Mount Darwin area, a total of US$1,4 million had been paid, with US$39 738 still outstanding.

“Over the past two weeks, US$1,5 million has been paid to farmers in different provinces across the country. We heard the board chairman unpacking efforts being made towards improving the companpy's financial position, and we sincerely hope that the farmers, who is the key stakeholder, is treated as such,” Haritatos said.

“Haritatos farmers continue to be exposed to the vagaries of climate change, the Pfumvudza/Intwasa becomes a panacea and an avenue towards increased production.

“We have also gone a step further by constructing more dams in the country and enhancing our irrigation activities to reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture, Haritatos said.

“My ministry is pursuing a cocktail of measures to accelerate cotton production in Zimbabwe.”

He said the industry, particularly the supply side anchored by the primary producers, was an area that the ministry was concerned about and seek to transform.

The recipients of the 2022/23 awards were Line Ravu from Mt Darwin, Mapondera Mkhuli (Binga), Fungai Mhlanga (Mt Darwin), and Chied Kanojerera (Mashonaland Central).

The winners thanked the government for providing inputs and Cottco for its support throughout the season.

Cottco chairperson Sifelani Jabangwe affirmed the company’s commitment to supporting cotton growers thereby contributing to community transformation.

“We are gathered here to celebrate the hard work of cotton farmers. This is one of the gatherings where we meet and celebrate the works of farmers like Mr and Mrs Ravu,” he said.

“And as Cottco, we understand the importance of cotton thus we stand with our farmers during the distribution of seeds to the point when cotton is delivered to Cottco.”

He said the firm had built strong relations with the farmers.

Cotton is the second largest exported crop after tobacco, providing the country with foreign currency.

A 61% increase in cotton production to 90 085 metric tonnes was recorded for the 2022/23 agricultural season.