A talk with
She says she got her first lessons about life from labour in the cotton fields. Her life and survival has depended on the cotton crop for the past four decades.
"History is what hurts when you talk about my experience in cotton farming," says Mrs Siwela referring to how the liberalisation policies brought about by the 1990s economic reforms imposed inexorable limits on most cotton growers in the country.
She remembers very well something about cotton growing that hurts her even up today.
"In the past you would toil in the field and get something, but now things are different," she says. "I'm no longer motivated to grow cotton anymore. Those that still grow cotton it's just to break even and to buy food, clothes and inputs."
She bemoans that cotton growing now is a new form of slavery and 'hardens' hardships they face every day.
"From six in the morning until six in the evening you chop and pick cotton. It's not easy in the fields," Mrs Siwela says. "I could work one row by myself and hire someone to do the next but it was quite involving and tiresome."
In the past she could pick cotton and get good earnings but after 1990 things started getting worse.
Even when she picked enough cotton to come out ahead, she had to contend with the discretionary powers wielded by the people who control the markets.
It became increasingly difficult to make decisions to grow cotton, to obtain credit, to hire labour as well as all productive activities, harvesting, delivery, and stalk removal.
Mrs Siwela could no longer afford to hire labour to spray insecticides in her field crop.
The manipulation of liberalised cotton trade and the scales meant poor prices, poverty and dependency for her.
"I like farming and working with my hands in the soil. Cotton was my chosen crop but now if you grow cotton you labour for nothing," she says. "You just work for the benefit of others."
Most other cotton growers have accused ginners, who contract them to produce cotton, for being insensitive and buyers for offering poor prices.
As a result, cotton output declined to 125 000 tonnes in 2013, from 283 000 in 2012, as farmers shifted to tobacco production, which offers better prices.
Other African countries also experienced a decline in cotton production.
In 2013, cotton prices rose marginally from gazetted minimums of
Cotton is no longer the 'white gold' that farmers once sought due to poor market prices, high production costs, migration of young people to neighbouring countries and high labour costs.
In 1991, when the Government liberalised the economy and began introducing reforms, thousands of cotton farmers were placed at the mercy of international commodity markets.
Government subsidies were scrapped and small-scale cotton producers who could once depend on a meagre but stable rate of return found themselves unable to viably grow the crop.
This necessarily forced many into debt, triggering uncertainty, destabilising lives and undermining development from the cotton growing region in Gokwe and
But some say history can also be what helps, a resource from the past that addresses present hurts and eases current pains.
Could the use of Bt cotton offer hope and put the country's cotton growing capacity on a recovery path?
"I'm very impressed with the Bt cotton trials being done here in
"Honestly, after this study tour, I don't see why
Salima is about 65km east of
"We must not resist new technologies that have a potential to transform our livelihoods and our economy in line with the Zim-Asset agenda," she said.
"We need to focus more on correcting misconceptions about GMO crops. We need to educate and inform our farmers about the pros and cons of biotech crops so that they can make informed choices."
Agricultural experts say cotton farmers in
Using Bt cotton developed using bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects such as the boll worm, they say reduction in pest infestations can increase yields and improve the livelihoods of cotton growers.
Mrs Chinamasa and other farmer representatives urge caution.
They say before
"Farmers want solutions that work," says Mr Wonder Chabikwa, president of the
The road to adoption of biotech crops is not easy.
"Farmers have a big role to play in the approval and adoption of GMO crops," she says. "
"We have made our mistakes in the past and we need to get it right this time," he says.
"It takes time and we want to develop a technology that is acceptable to farmers that suits their local conditions."
After the Malawi Bt cotton trials, he says, his company needs to come up with better varieties that can produce cotton that is acceptable to farmers, buyers and technology development experts.
And, it seems, 'seeing-is-believing' GM crop field tours for farmers like Mrs Siwela can give them some reassurance that Bt cotton can be part of an answer to their cotton growing woes.
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