Peter Mhlauri, a cotton grower from Goldenvale in Chinhoyi never imagined himself buying a tractor and a trailer in his lifetime.

Given the low earnings from cotton and other crops he farms, owning such machinery was just out of reach for him.

But life has its twists and turns.

His wish for a tractor and trailer was fulfilled when he won the 2021 national cotton grower of the year at the just ended Zimbabwe Agricultural Show.

The 39-year-old farmer touched the sky, when he went home with a tractor and trailer after he was handed over his prize by President Mnangagwa.

He attributes his achievements to the Cotton Presidential Inputs Scheme which enabled him to grow the best crop and sail to victory.

Mhlauri said he won the national prize after growing an 8-hectare plot of cotton under the Presidential Inputs Scheme being implemented by Cottco. Under the programme, farmers get free inputs that include seed, fertilisers, chemicals and tillage services.

Mhlauri said he got inputs on time and managed to put 8ha under cotton during the 2020/21 summer cropping season.

“From the 8ha plot, I harvested 21 tonnes of cotton,” he said.

“The bales were 107 and of these, 59 qualified for the A grade, 32 B, 51 C and one bale was put in grade D.

“I then qualified for the competitions. The judges were considering the quality of the cotton and because I had many bales in grade A, I won.”

Winning a tractor and a trailer was the ultimate victory for Mhlauri.

“I have never imagined myself owning a tractor,” he said.

“I never dreamt of buying one because I considered it very expensive and out of reach but now, after growing cotton, my dream has come true.”

Mhlauri said he started growing cotton some years ago.

“Last year, I was happy with the payments I got for cotton,” he said.

“With the earnings I got, I bought two grinding mills, a bedroom suite, kitchen dresser and groceries, which was enough to take me for the whole season.”

The Chinhoyi farmer said growing cotton under the Presidential inputs scheme had proved to be beneficial.

“The scheme is ideal for me since I do not own land,” said Mhlauri.

“I do not have the documents required for one to get funding from banks. Under the Presidential Inputs Scheme I am required to present my identity card and show capacity that I can produce cotton for me to be eligible.”

Mhlauri urged other young people to try cotton production as there were tangible benefits.

“I got assistance from the extension officer Mr Tineyi Mudhachi who advised me from the time of land preparations until I harvested my crop,” he said.

“My wife Kudzai and seven children also helped me work on the plot.

“If I had my own land, I was going to increase the hectarage under cotton. I will also be able to invest on the land without the fear of being removed anytime. I hope the Government will also consider young farmers who are excelling in different fields for land resettlement.”

The Presidential Inputs Scheme was extended to cotton after farmers had abandoned the crop citing viability challenges and the exorbitant prices merchants were charging for inputs, coupled with the very slow payment systems.

This scheme has transformed the lives of many smallholder farmers in communal areas, especially youths and women who were struggling to access funding.

Beneficiaries of the Presidential Inputs Scheme now boast of acquiring tractors, grinding mills, irrigation equipment and household furniture.

Cotton is important because of its contributions to the textile industry, edible oil and stockfeeds manufacturing.

Cotton is a vital crop in terms of value addition, employment and import substitution. Cotton is an anchor crop just like tobacco, sugar cane and horticultural crops. This year, 520 000 farmers are set to benefit from the Cotton Presidential Inputs Scheme. In some areas farmers are also assisted with tillage services. Production of cotton, also known as Zimbabwe’s white gold, is on an upward trajectory now after years of decline.

Government has taken bold steps to inject life into the cotton industry through the rolling out of the Pfumvudza agricultural cotton scheme targeting some 520 000 households across the country which will spur the production of the cash crop. All this is now turning the wheels of the cotton industry, benefiting farmers, processors, cooperatives alongside other key value chain actors.

The Presidential Input Scheme has helped in the resuscitation of the cotton industry which is a major source of employment for the farmers. Financially, cotton has been bringing in an average of US$70 million annually.

Earnings have grown from US$11 million in 2016 up to US$70 million at present and benefits have accrued along the value chain and around the cotton production ecosystem.

“As young farmers we need to land too,” said Mhlauri.

“The future of farming is in our hands and the Government must help us to acquire land to scale up cotton production. We need land and this can make a huge difference in our life.”