Persevering with cotton farming

Salima, March 31, 2016: In the lakeshore plain of Salima district, the midday sun pounds on heads of people like the frightened hands of a man on a door when drawing attention to the danger outside.

The scorching sun does not bother some people standing in open air in appreciation of the beauty in one agricultural field.

In this plain, there is a cotton field. When you stand on one end, it looks like an endless field, as far as the eye can see, covered with a green canopy of the crop.

This is a field belonging to 36-year-old Steven Mkangeni of Khuki Village in Traditional Authority Kalonga in Salima.

He is one of the very few farmers that have grown cotton in this farming season in the district.

Many have withdrawn from cotton production because of poor prices the crop attracted in the past two years.

It is a fact that prices of cotton on the world market have not been inspiring over the years.

The increase in the use of synthetic fibres like polyester in industries by economies like China has decreased the demand of cotton on the global market, experts say.

The ripple effects of this international trend have not spared farmers in developing nations like Malawi.

Last year, the selling price of cotton in the country reached as low as K250 per kilogramme against K375 per kilogramme minimum price set by government.

With the crop fetching low prices, many farmers were unable to reclaim the money they invested.

This has resulted in many smallholder farmers abandoning production of cotton in the 2016/17 farming season.

In Chinguluwe Extension Planning Area (EPA) under the Salima Agriculture Development Division (ADD), almost 80 percent of seasoned cotton farmers have not grown the crop this year, according to an agriculture extension development officer in the area, Prince Ngwira,.

“Apart from the ginners not providing farm inputs on credit, last year’s poor prices have discouraged many farmers to grow cotton,” he observed.

While this is the case, other farmers have taken the risk of trying their luck this year. One of them is Mkangeni.

“This crop has been the backbone of my life. I cannot just abandon it because of setbacks faced in a few years. Farming like any other business has its own risks and we have to be prepared for that,” he added.

Apparently, he is one of the few farmers that managed to sale their cotton at the right price before market prices went on a downward spiral.

Last season, Mkangeni produced 1,300 kilogrammes of cotton from a 3-acre piece of land. He only invested K90, 000 but realised close to K490, 000 after selling the crop.

He claimed: “I was lucky because I sold my crop at the very beginning of the marketing season. I had a large quantity of high quality cotton. So the buyers did not hesitate to buy it at K375 per kilogramme.”

The soft spoken Mkangeni said he is always sure of getting a good deal at markets because of his determination in producing a high value crop.

He attributes the crop’s high value production to good farming practices that he learnt from the interventions by the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC) on cotton production.

Mkangeni, who started growing the crop in 2002, says previously he was unable to come up with a high value crop.

But now that is history and he is grateful to the skills and knowledge he received from AICC on production of high value cotton.

“I have learnt new farming methods of growing cotton. Previously, I used to plant three seeds per station with a space of 50 centimetres between the stations.

“But now with the practice of planting two seeds per station with a space of 45 centimetres, I am producing cotton with high quality lint and seed because the plant has adequate nutrients for a health growth,” he hinted.

He pointed out that most of his cotton is usually free from diseases because once he harvests the crop, he uproots every stalk to avoid recycling of pests and diseases.

“The problem with some farmers is that they just cut the stalk of the crop after harvesting. This creates a breeding ground for diseases that are transferred into the next season,” narrated Mkangeni, a father of three.

With cotton farming, he has managed to provide basic necessities for his family and relatives. He has also built a standard house.

“I started building the house in 2011 with money amounting to K400, 000. Unfortunately, I cannot come up with the final figure of the total cost.”

He told Mana he plans to acquire more land for investments and build more houses for rent.

Mkangeni explained the money he made from last year’s sales was invested into farm inputs and practices for this growing season.

This means that the withdrawal of some cotton ginners in the country in providing farm inputs on credit hardly affected him.

In 2016/17 farming season, some ginners did not provide the credit facility to farmers arguing that their huge investments in the sector are not yielding any benefits.

For Mkangeni, production went on as usual and he is looking forward to this year’s market with high expectations of making more money than last year.

African Institute Corporate Citizenship (AICC) produces quarterly periodicals which carry out a market outlook of several crops including cotton by analysing previous and current trends in respective sectors both at local and international level.

In its edition of Malcotton Outlook of October-December 2016, AICC states that given the global cotton trade dynamics in the past six months, African countries including Malawi are likely to benefit from the cotton export market if adequate and quality supplies are made available.

Communications Officer for AICC, Charles Ziba says cotton still has the future to perform well in the textile industry despite increasing demand of synthetic fibres.

“Cotton has the potential to outclass the other fibres. Here in Malawi we produce cotton of high quality if we compare to other African nations.

“But maybe what is needed is a proper approach and follow up in the way we take our cotton to the world market,” he said.

These are future prospects of the crop that still encourage farmers like Mkangeni to continue growing the crop despite the challenges facing them.

“As long as I remain in good health, I see myself growing this crop for the rest of my life,” Mkangeni vowed.

Source: Malawi News Agency – MANA