Cotton has traditionally been an important cash crop in Malawi. The crop is grown on about 30,000 hectares and supports about 1,20,000 small holder farmers, three ginning companies and three main input providers.
Because of a number of cotton development initiatives, the average yield has increased. The crop is often cultivated with maize and other drought-tolerant small grains.
Cotton production has declined largely because of mixing of different grades, limited grading by farmers and polypropylene contamination, declining productivity, low Ginning – Out – Turn etc. Recent years have also witnessed a decline in area under cotton cultivation due to a shift from cotton production to other crops because of reduced international prices and the inefficiencies in the sector.
Agriculture accounts for 33 per cent of GDP while manufacturing accounts for only 12 per cent. Nearly 22 per cent of the GDP comes from the distribution sector and is mainly accounted for by trading.
Under utilisation of ginning capacity is a matter of concern. The textile industry too has been declining. Until the 1990s there was an integrated cotton textile and garment chain in Malawi with inter-sector linkages. Since then the chain has in effect been broken.
Presently, the garment industry is small and is generally focused on low value garments suitable for the mass market and discount stores.