By Steve Ephraem
BEFORE the turn of the millennium, The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) and Cargil Cotton were the definition of the cotton industry in Checheche.
It was in 2001 that Cottco was posed with a real challenge when FSI Agricom opened a depot in the same area.
FSI Agricom (which was later known as FSI Cotton) drawn its human resources from former Cottco and Cargil Cotton workers. The youthful FSI area manager, Tinashe Chitambira was so versatile that the 2001-2002 was marred with several clashes between Cottco and FSI Cotton.
That was beginning of cotton wars which are spilling into these years in Checheche between the public owned Cottco and most private players.
It all started when FSI Cotton was accused of stealing from Cottco by buying seed cotton from farmers who had been contracted by the later. By that time, a cotton merchant could buy seed cotton in any pack and the companies would return each other’s packs after ginning.
As years went by, Checheche became a cotton powerhouse that at one point it boasted of 11 cotton merchants namely Cottco, Southern Cotton (formerly FSI Cotton), Blair Cotton, Insing, ArmGrain, Cargil Cotton, ZESA Enterprises, Parrogate Investment, Romsdale (Tara Fern) Investments, Poru Cot and Grafax Cotton.
The influx of private players choked the public company which was so strong in financing its contracted growers with a full package of inputs which consisted of planting seed, pesticides, picking bags and wool packs. Those with bigger hectarage were categorised as Gold Farmers and would also receive weeding cash.
Some, if not most, of the private players were very strong at supplying planting seed but would chicken out when the issue of pesticides came into play.
To woodwink farmers contracted by Cottco, some of the private players introduced what was termed as “green financing” where they would advance cash to Cottco farmers with bigger hectarage in a bid to buy an established cotton crop.
This was where the devil was let loose. How could one contract an already established crop?
The negative result of “green financing” was that the Ministry of Agriculture was being misled by merchants as far as expected yield for Checheche was concerned.
Consider the foowing example. Farmer A gets contracted 10ha of cotton by the Company X and receive all inputs for the 10ha. Company Y comes and does “green finance” on Farmer A’s crop and Company Y declares that it has contracted 10ha in Checheche.
In the end, the two companies declare to have 10ha of cotton each. The agricultural ministry is already misled to believe that there are 20ha of cotton when in actual fact there would be just 10 ha.
To curb such crockery, the Government of Zimbabwe introduced a statutory instrument which saw the birth of Cotton Growers Association (CGA). Under this arrangement, cotton distribution points (CDPs) were established where farmers would be registered under Agricultural Marketing Authority’s inspection.
All cotton merchants would register farmers, distribute inputs and wool packs on similar days and in the presence of every player. This was to reduce or avoid double declaration of hectarage as well as side marketing.
But did this arrange really curb side marketing? Is the cotton industry free from threats? The forthcoming article shall answer the questions.
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