In Zimbabwe, cotton is considered as one of the major foreign currency earner crops and ranks in at second place after Tobacco. Zimbabwe produces at least 600 000 tonnes of cotton (2015-2016 period). Over the same period, foreign currency amounting to $836 million was realized. Over the years it has become popularly known as white gold. It is a very difficult crop to manage because it is attractive to various pests and is subject to diseases and weed infestations. This however does not mean that cotton farming is a no go area. This is exactly the type of business you need to venture into because if properly managed, the results can be rewarding and astounding. Cotton farming is time demanding. It needs someone who is committed. You also need a good business plan before starting cotton farming business.
What you need
Pest control and management techniques
If you are to succeed in the cotton production business, invest your time in seeking expert knowledge on how you can manage these pests and the available range of techniques to employ throughout the life of the product until harvest. You can use bio-control agents, plant breeding and appropriate cultivar selection, cultural and mechanical techniques. You can make use of genetically modified plants and lastly you can apply conventional pesticides (natural and synthetic). Take note of the disadvantages of the improper use of pesticides and their adverse effects on health, the environment and water sources contamination. Maintenance of the land and weed control will contribute by reducing the amount of pests that cumulate on the crop. Note that the plant may also dry up if the land allows for water logging.
Land or a farm
You will need land for your cotton farming business. Secure land and make sure that you no pending issues regarding ownership, these may disturb the business. If you are on a long term lease, get a legal expert to go through the documents to ensure that your business is secure. Property rights are a major raise of concern in Zimbabwe.
Cotton flourishes well in the middle and Highveld areas during the November to December month, whilst the Lowveld period is October to November. This is because cotton requires a long frost free period followed by a period with lots of sunshine and moderate rain between 600-1200mm. Also consider the type of soil which is most favorable for growing cotton (clay or sand). Understanding the type of soil would help you know the type of inputs you need. For instance, if your farm is made up of heavy soil, you may need to purchase large quantities of starter fertilizers to reduce the effects of cold and soil conditions and improve root growth and nutrients availability. Areas such as Sanyati, Guruve, Gokwe, Mazowe, Mount Darwin, Chinhoyi and Triangle have supportive climates and are best suited to cotton farming.
Plant and Equipment
If funds permit, you can purchase a tractor, harvest equipment and also set up an irrigation system which may be helpful in the dry season. You may also need other types of motor vehicles, a scale system, safety clothing and cotton harvest bags.
In Zimbabwe, you can sell your cotton to Cottco and other private players such as Alliance, ETG, China Africa, Sino Zimbabwe and Alliance. Prices vary and you may find that Cottco offers a better price per kg.
Management and Employees
Harvesting is quite labor intensive especially if it is to be done manually. However, if you have the necessary up to date equipment you may use mechanized equipment. The number of employees required to grow and harvest the crop may vary depending on the size of your cotton farm and also the type of equipment you employ. You will need foremen and many laborers. The cotton farming business is labour intensive. The managers of the cotton farm should be well trained in operating a cotton farming business. Technical knowledge is essential to succeed in the cotton farming business.
Not all years are good and as such you may need to safeguard yourself by getting an insurance policy to cover you when a disaster, flood or other unexpected event takes place.
Capital Requirements and Costs
Cotton farming is one of the most supported sectors in the country and the government of Zimbabwe invests through the Presidential Scheme. Cottco also has an Input Credit Scheme. This means that capital requirements may be low and thus making it easy for you to start the cotton farming business. The amount of capital you need will depend on the scale of your farming business. You can start your small cotton farming business with only $20 000.
Profitability of Cotton Farming
To reduce costs of purchasing pesticides, you may use organic cotton since it is specialized to and genetically modified with inborn natural insectide that is harmful to pests. Although some pests are resistant, this type of cotton will contribute to profitability from that aspect. Pricing and marketing affects the profitability of cotton farming. If disputes in this sector concerning pricing could be resolved, the revenue streams may be larger than currently earned. The recent prices range between $0,30per kg to $0,50per kg. As a farmer, it is imperative that you take note of your yield per hectare. For example a yield of 1500kg per hectare can go a long way in contributing to profitability. Indicators such as total production, average yields (seed cotton), average cotton holding, total income and average income per hectare may be useful in analyzing the viability of this business.
To maintain a steady harvest over the years, you may practice plant rotation with crops such as soya beans and peanuts in order to keep the soil revitalized. Cotton farming is viable but in order to avoid poor returns it is important that you acquire farming skills and knowledge. Every stage from planting to harvesting is critical and it requires attention to detail. The profitability of the cotton farming business is dependent on the market prices.
Plant improvement goes a long way in maintaining quality and high yielding varieties. Therefore it is important that you purchase and use only the best available seeds, fertilizers and pesticides over the years. As a farmer you may require financing every year and thus maintain good relations with your banker and pay up your owings whenever they are due. Join the Farmers Union and get your representation in order to reduce some unnecessary challenges in this business.
We wish you the best in your cotton farming business. Check out more business ideas and our collection of business plans. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to receive notifications of new posts in your email.
A note from StartupBiz Zimbabwe: Everyday we send business updates via Whatsapp. Click the link to join: https://chat.whatsapp.com/HIdRoPC1jSnCzuCXbRopqj or send the word join via Whatsapp to +263778798072 (Whatsapp us by clicking the link https://wa.me/263778798072).