Ahead of the cotton marketing season, players in the cotton sector have expressed different views with some predicting a better season this year compared to the previous season, banking hopes on relatively good weather.
Cotton has in the recent past faced with a number challenges such as production volumes which have been on the decline the past five years.
For instance in the 2011/12 season, the country produced 100 000 tons of cotton before output fell by half to 45 000 metric tons (MT) in 2012/13 season.
Last year, output for the crop dropped by a third to 15 000 MT relative to the previous year due to dry spell.
Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi (Cofam) president George Mnesa told Business News although the year started on a good note with adequate rains, inputs particularly cotton seed was a scarce resource for most farmers.
“If only we had adequate seed, definitely this was a comeback season for cotton. The cotton council did provide seed to farmers but this was not enough to cater for every farmer. There are only a few farmers that planted the seed; hence, we expect another low output this year, even lower than last year,” he said.
He said the association is currently in talks with ginners on pricing of the crop this year with hopes that they would agree on a price higher than K375 per kilogramme (kg).
Cotton expert Duncan Warren who is also former vice chairperson of Cotton Development Trust (now Cotton Council) has predicted low output of cotton this year.
He said: “It is very likely that prices will remain as they were last year which gives us another reason to worry.
“There might be little supply but the supply and demand does not really work in Malawi because the volumes we produce are just too small to really impact on the global market. Our prices are dependent on the global prices.”
He said time has come for stakeholders in the cotton sector to come up with a proper strategic plan to revamp the sector in the country.
“Primarily bringing back cotton is an issue of value addition. If we only added value within Malawi then we could possibly be offering better prices to the farmers and attract them to grow the crop. In the absence of value addition in Malawi, we will continue to export the raw material at a price which will obviously translate to low price for the farmer,” said Warren.
Cotton has a huge economic potential and could rake in substantial amount of foreign exchange, in excess of $500 million (K306 billion) per annum, more than what the country gets from the main export crop tobacco.
The crop which is largely grown by smallholder farmers in the Chikwawa, Nsanje and some lakeshore areas is estimated to be grown on 80 000 hectares and accounts for 7 percent of farming families, according to government statistics.