After I had wrote my secondary school examinations I worked on part time basis with several cotton buying companies. In Bangula Ginnery I worked with Great Lakes Company as a Tally Clerk and later with Iponga Cotton Company at Zalewa and Salima Ginneries.
I happen to have lots of friends who are still working in the cotton sector, from buying supervisors to the cotton farmers themselves. The fact that this year’s cotton buying season is faced with a lot of problems due to the disagreements between the Malawi government and the Cotton buyers over price means that a lot of people are suffering. This includes my best friends in all the places I worked no wonder am taking it personal.
The season was supposed to officially start the end of March but up to now it is yet to start. Already reports indicate that one of the buyers, Cargill Malawi has issued a press release that it will not buy cotton this year unless government allows it to buy at MK42 instead of the MK75 that the government set. This means that a lot of people who worked for Cargill Malawi will be left in the cold including farmers who were given loans.
In Balaka, angry farmers petitioned the District Commissioner to intervene in the situation that some companies are buying cotton at night and at very cheap prices. This just shows how serious the issue of this cotton season is. Farmers all over the country are frustrated at the turn of events when they expected to benefit from their hard work.
A friend in Bangula told me how they are fairing without Great Lakes and Cargill buying cotton. Every one in the Lower Shire relies on cotton to some extent and this has left them in an awkward position. Most of the people grow cotton instead of maize and buys the staple food after selling their cotton. Young people were supposed to be in the field buying cotton while some were supposed to be at the ginnery tallying some figures. Others work as machine operators, ginners and mechanics in the ginnery and got used to life in this way.
Cotton is one of the major foreign earners in Malawi apart from tobacco and tea. But unlike tobacco, cotton is very delicate and cannot stay for a long time without losing quality and weight. Therefore even if they start buying now at whatever price they will agree a lot has already been lost and the spirit of the farmers has been bruised no wonder very few will grow cotton next season. I feel sorry for my friends in Nsanje, Chikwawa, Zalewa, Balaka and Salima.