Maria Madina vowed two years ago never again to grow cotton after being disappointed by the market prices offered at that time.
As 49-year-old Madina sat on a reed mat in Mfulanjobvu area in Balaka,Southern Region of Malawi, she told ChinAfrica of how the hopes of making thousands of Kwacha from 60 bales of cotton she had harvested had been dashed.
"I had anticipated that I would sell my cotton at least at K75 ($0.50) a kilo as was gazetted by the government, but alas, I only sold my cotton at K40 ($0.28) a kilo as I could not wait any longer for better prices because I was afraid my cotton would go bad," she said.
Madina is one of the thousands of farmers in Balaka, Chikwawa and Nsanje, who became disillusioned with cotton growing.
However, hope is now at hand in the form of the Malawi Cotton Factory, a cotton processing plant based in Balaka about 200 km from the capital city Lilongwe. The factory occupies some 28 hectares of land and began initial operation at the end of last year.
The China-Africa Cotton Development Ltd. has invested more than $25 million through the Malawi Cotton Co. into the processing plant, which is expected to create over 1,000 jobs for Malawians.
The Malawi Cotton Co. comprises of cotton ginnery, textile manufacturing plant and cooking oil extraction. It will also be processing cotton seed cake.
Company spokesperson Truman Kachale said that one of the reasons the company was established was to help farmers by buying cotton at a better price. "This year the price of cotton was hovering around K160 ($1) and K100 ($0.75) [a kilo] and a lot of farmers were happy," he told ChinAfrica.
He said, however, the turnover of the crops had decreased, as most farmers had been discouraged to grow the crop due to the low market prices in previous years.
Kachale said that the company has three subsidiary depots in Chikwawa and Mwanza in the south of Malawi and Karonga in the north. He said as a way of motivation, the company rewards farmers who produce more high quality cotton. Recently the company gave away two tractors as prizes.
Kachale said that they are involved in an output and input system where they input by distributing seeds, fertilizer and pesticides to selected farmers and in return buy the cotton output.
As for Madina, the coming of this cotton factory has brought some hope. "I did not grow cotton this year and instead grew corn, but I am contemplating changing my earlier stance as I see that my fellow farmers have benefited by selling their produce to the new factory," she said.
Albet Nkhoma, a Chikwawa based farmer, said he never gave up despite the disappointments. "Yes I lost a lot of revenue from my previous crops but I grew again this year and earned enough money and am thrilled," he said.
The Malawi Cotton Factory was launched last year by Malawi Vice President Joyce Banda who said it provided an essential investment to Malawi's agriculture dependent economy.