Declador Rimleldeoudje waded through his field between thousands of stalks he hopes will become a bumper crop of cotton -- knowing that Chad's white gold has a future as unpredictable as the rains.

For decades, cotton has sustained his region of southern Chad. But the prized crop is now under threat.

At the entrance to his village of Kagtaou, around 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Moundou, the main city in the south, stands a huge container overflowing with cotton.

CotonTchad, the semi-private company that was supposed to purchase it, still has not honoured its pledge and growers fear the unpredictable rains will destroy their harvest before it's sold.

"We like cotton but it's too difficult ... the climate isn't stable and that's a real drawback. It effects the tonnage," Rimleldeoudje explained, shading his eyes from the scorching sun.

The 24-year-old's profits have tumbled to a third of what they were last harvest.

Nearly everyone in Kagtaou makes their living from cotton.

But more and more people are becoming discouraged because of the damage wrought by climate change and long-running conflicts between farmers and herders.

"Evidence of climate change -- irregular rainfall which sometimes causes drought and other times sporadic floods -- leads to huge drops in production," explained Laohote Baohoutou, a climatologist at N'Djamena University.

It also exacerbates ancestral conflicts, he said.

- Climate change -

Nomadic herders from the arid Sahel areas of the north drive their animals through fields belonging to growers in the south, or let the animals graze there. There are disputes about who owns some land.

At least 23 people died in a week of fighting in March. Women and children are often the victims of these frequent conflicts.

Intense rains are a new threat. The United Nations says floods in 2022 destroyed more than 350,000 hectares (1,350 square miles) of crops and killed 20,000 livestock in the central African country.

The south was the worst hit.

"It's so disheartening," sighed Rimleldeoudje.

"I get the feeling the south doesn't even figure on the map of Chad any more... We don't get any financial support."

Since April, Africa has seen more extreme climate events.

The west has sweltered in heatwaves of more than 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).

The east has been battered by torrential rains that have caused fatal floods in Kenya and Tanzania.

- 'Forgotten' -

Once one of Chad's most flourishing agricultural sectors, cotton has plummeted as a share of GDP and exports shrank from 2.15 percent in 2015 to 0.7 percent in 2020, according to World Bank figures.

The prospects for Chad's white gold will weigh on the minds of southern voters when the country of 18 million votes for a new president on Monday.

Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, who was made head of state by the army three years ago after he led a military coup, is competing with the prime minister he appointed in January as his main opponent.

Some believe that Succes Masra, a fierce opponent-turned-ally of Deby, has been put up as a sham candidate to offer a veneer of democracy to an election Deby will easily win.

Others say that Masra, 40, who has attracted large crowds, is a genuine opponent and could push Deby into a second-round run-off.

Jean Benaudji, head of the cotton growers' association in Kagtaou, plans to vote for Masra.

"He's the only one who can provide support for the cotton growers, who've been abandoned and forgotten by the rest of the country," he said.

Masra, who hails from the south, has made promises of "justice and fairness" that have struck a nerve with many out-of-work cotton growers, who get nothing when their crops are destroyed by livestock or rains.

"His slogan is justice, equality and peace. That's what I'm looking for and that's why he'll get my vote," said Rimleldeoudje.