HARARE, May 27– The Zimbabwe government is working on re-establishing the Cotton Marketing Board (CMB) as it seeks to bring about order in the production and marketing of the crop in the country, says Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr. Joseph Made.

Cotton is one of the top export crops in Zimbabwe after tobacco. The former CMB, now Cottco, a Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed company, was privatised in 1994 and listed three years later.

Dr. Made said here Monday that re-establishment of the board would help restore order in the sector. “From a government point of view, we are going to re-establish the Cotton Marketing Board. We cannot allow what is happening in the cotton sector. It is a very vital sector. Sixty per cent of our rural population is directly involved in cotton production,” he said.

The cotton sector is currently mired in confusion as the government has yet to announce this season’s buying price for the crop, commonly reffered to as the white gold.

At the same time, the Competition and Tariff Commission has ordered that farmers, previously represented by unions, must negotiate the prices on their own. As a result, farmers have delayed harvesting their crop with some threatening to abandon it in the fields.

Dr. Made appealed to farmers to harvest their crop to maintain its quality while the government restored order in the sector. “If left in the fields, it deteriorates. There is also the danger of veld fires,” he said.

Agriculture Marketing Authority General Manager Rockie Mutenha said the move to allow farmers to individually negotiate with contractors was for their benefit.

“In the past, ginners used to group up and negotiate one price and yet the farmers’ cost of production was different. We are giving an opportunity to the farmer to negotiate a price that he wants for his product in relation to the input he got from the contractor,” he said.

Dr. Made said cotton production this season was anticipated to be better than in past seasons, with production assessments currently underway.

He said the Grain Marketing Board would also be competing with private players in buying maize from farmers. Since the beginning of harvesting last month, the GMB has taken delivery of 5,400 tonnes of maize, up from 1,600 metric tonnes during the same period last year.

“In the coming two-three weeks, there will be more deliveries to the GMB as the maize will have reached the required moisture content,” Made said, adding that indications were for maize production to also be better this season as a result of good rains the country received.

He said the GMB was no longer the buyer of last resort. “The GMB is a buyer and is currently buying. We are not controlling the grain,” he said. “Farmers are delivering to the GMB. We are not saying other buyers must not buy, that is why we announce the floor price.”

The government has set a floor price of 390 USD per tonne this season but private buyers are arguing it is too high and instead want to offer 310 USD per tonne. The GMB is mandated to store 500,000 tonnes of maize as strategic reserve.

Made said the GMB’s infrastructure to store grain was not in a “sorrowful state” but in need of rehabilitation.
The GMB has capacity to store 750,000 tonnes in its 12 silos across the country and also has storage sheds with a capacity of 175,000 tonnes as well as temporary structures to handle up to 3.9 million tonnes during dry periods.

Besides maize, the parastatal also buys and stores grains such as soybeans, wheat, sorghum, millet, rapoko and groundnuts.