By  on May 16, 2006

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The African textile industry has suffered since the abolition of global quotas in January 2005.

Factories have closed throughout the region, and investment has significantly weakened as demand has slackened and China has emerged as the world's manufacturing superpower.

While textile manufacturers throughout the African region complain that China's dominance has hurt not just the textile industry but the entire supply chain, John Hewlett has been overseeing the farming of cotton by peasant farmers over a 143,000-acre sprawl consisting of smaller plots in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in Africa.

Last year, his company, Plexus Mozambique, a subsidiary of Plexus Cotton Ltd., based in the U.K., purchased from farmers a harvest of around 30,000 tons of seed cotton, making it by far the largest cotton concessionaire in the country. Its nearest competitor produced about 15,000 tons. Plexus' harvest yielded more than 12,000 tons of cotton fiber, ginned at the factories in Montepuez in Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique; 8,000 tons were delivered to its biggest customer, China, for milling.

"China as a producer is a huge consumer of raw materials," said Hewlett, adding that while cotton is grown in China, "their manufacturing requirements are such that their textile mills still need to import cotton fibers from other suppliers."

Global consumption of cotton last year amounted to about 25 million tons and China accounted for almost half of that with consumption of 10 million tons, according to industry authority Cotton Outlook. China's total yarn production for 2005 was about 14 million tons.

The volume of cotton fiber exported by Plexus Mozambique to China seems a pittance when one takes into account the total volume China requires. For Mozambican cotton farmers, however, the growing demand from China is a welcome development.

Mozambique is a country with a population of 14.5 million and per capita income of $1,300, based on purchasing power parity, situated along the southeastern coast of Africa. With the Indian Ocean to the east, it shares a border with Tanzania on the north, South Africa on the south, and Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe on the west. Once a colony of Portugal, Mozambique has recently emerged from decades of civil war and has steadily embraced tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.

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