Output for cotton, one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners, has dropped by a third to 15 000 metric tonnes (MT) relative to last year largely due to dry spell.
The drop comes at a time the country is looking for alternative crops to bring in foreign exchange to beef up the forex buffer as tobacco earnings are set to drop by at least 30 percent, according to projections.
Already, after 17 weeks of tobacco sales, cumulative earnings are at $185.7 million, a 31 percent drop from last year’s $271 million during the same period.
In terms of cotton, the country last year produced 45 000MT and this year’s output is a record drop from a high of 100 000MT four years ago.
A cotton expert Duncan Warren, who is also former vice-chairperson of Cotton Development Trust (now Cotton Council), said output for the crop has been on the downward spiral and this output will only bring in $2.3 million (K1.6 billion) from last year’s K7 billion
He said the output drop means that Malawi will get less foreign exchange and people who depend on cotton will not be in employment.
“Just imagine only four ginners out of about eight have managed to buy the crop because it was expensive, scarce and prices on the global market are unpredictable.
“So, if the ginners did not buy the crop, it means they cannot keep people in employment.”
Cotton Ginners Africa general manager Spencer Zinyemba said the drop will have disastrous consequences for the cotton industry.
“The cotton sector will be in trouble as there will be less jobs created,” he said, adding that only four ginners bought the crop this year.
The ginners are Mapeto DWS, Afrisian, Cotton Ginners Africa and Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
Last week, Cotton Ginners Board said due to the drop in output most smallholder farmers will default on their loan payment which will compel them to stop giving loans to smallholder cotton farmers.
The board chairperson Amos Chipungu said they are failing to recover their loans largely due to low cotton output this year.
Malawi, as the rest of the countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region, experienced El Nino which led to erratic rains, leading to decreased harvests of almost all the crops.
Cotton is one of the high value crops that has a number of benefits along its value chain.
Figures show that smallholder farmers currently produce between 800 to 900 kilogrammes per hectare.