Balaka cotton farmers have asked government to start regulating the standard of inputs and equipment sold on the market.
In an interview in Balaka, one of the cotton farmers, Christopher Mazulu of Chipote Village, Traditional Authority Sawali, said counterfeit products have flooded the market, affecting cotton output.
“Substandard sprayers, counterfeit cotton seed and chemicals are all over the market, and due to poor capital, many farmers buy these cheap products and end up losing money, but government through Cotton Council are just watching as helpless farmers being duped,” he said.
Mazulu, who sold over 5 000 kilogrammes (kg) of cotton last year, accused Cotton Council of collecting levies, but failing to regulate the industry, leaving farmers with no option but to abandon cotton farming as they feel they are not protected.
But Machinga Agricultural Development Division principal crops officer Dalitso Chandile said government is encouraging cotton farmers to be in cooperatives to enable them bargain for good prices.
“We are doing everything possible to retain the remaining cotton buyers and continuously engage them to offer realistic prices to farmers so that those who stopped growing cotton should come back,” he said.
Chandile said government is encouraging farmers to grow a hectare or more of cotton to increase output to around 800 kg per hectare.
Last year, four of the main cotton buyers, Malawi Cotton Company, Toleza Farm, Export Trading Group and Great Lakes boycotted in protest against the government-set minimum buying price of K375, which they described as unrealistic compared to the international price for cotton.
This development resulted in Toleza Farm closing down its cotton department and firing about 100 employees.
The firm cited government’s poor policies, saying they are driving away investors in the cotton industry.
Over the past years, cotton output has been dropped by 95 percent over a six-year period, from a record 100 000 tonnes in 2010 to around 15 000 tonnes last year.
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.
The country’s ginning capacity is at 205 000 tonnes but farmers are failing to meet it, according to Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi (Cofam).
Experts say cotton is a high-value crop with a number of benefits along its value chain and has potential to boost foreign exchange earnings. n