Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi (Cofam), a grouping of small-scale cotton farmers, says the future of cotton farming still looks gloomy despite good weather prospects and buyer availability.
Cotton output has dropped by 95 percent over a six-year period, from a record 100 000 tonnes in 2010 to around 15 000 tonnes last year.
In an interview on Friday, Cofam president George Nnesa said despite showing interest, many cotton farmers are now faced with the challenge of sourcing inputs as financiers continue turning their backs on them due to an outstanding K1.3 billion unpaid loan dating back to two years ago.
Cotton productivity in Malawi is approximately 600 kilogramme (kg) per hectare (ha), but with timely access to inputs and good agriculture practices, the potential yield of 1 500 kg/ha or higher is attainable.
However, because of the breakdown of input supply system, smallholder farmers have been unable to get the inputs they need, and in the absence of a well-functioning supply through agro-dealers, they have either used recycled seed,
bought poor quality seed from ‘vendors’ and not used necessary crop protection agents.
He said: “The main challenge that we are being faced with is to secure inputs. Now ginners no longer give us financing because we had defaulted earlier. Some farmers are even having challenges to source K600 to add up to the K300 to purchase a one kilogramme bag of cotton seed.
“We have tried to reorganise ourselves into groups so that some financiers could come in, but most of them we have turned to, kept turning their back on us because of the issue of outstanding loans.”
Shire Valley Agriculture Development Division principal cotton officer Jackson Mvula said with over 24 000 farmers registering to grow the crop this year in the region, accessing farm inputs remains a challenge due to lack of finance.
Cotton buyer Afrisian Limited regional manager for the Shire Valley Nelson Dinyelo said underproduction of cotton has affected the company’s business, as it is failing to meet its ginning capacity of 30 000 metric tonnes (MT).
“We feel this underproduction is affecting our ginning capacity as we are ginning far below the ginning capacity,” he said.
Cotton production has been on a steep downward trend since the 2014/15 season from its general minimum level of 45 000 MT.
The country’s ginning capacity is at 205 000 MT but farmers are failing to meet it, according to Cofam.
Experts say cotton is a high-value crop with a number of benefits along its value chain and has potential to contribute to the foreign exchange earnings. n