Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

DEVELOPMENT-IVORY COAST: Falling Global Prices Make Cotton Unattractive

Aly Ouattara

BOUAKE, Feb 4 2006 (IPS) - To stem famine and counter a major reduction in rice imports, more and more farmers have been growing rice during the political crisis that has split Ivory Coast in two since 2002.

Local rice growers, assisted by the German technical corporation, GTZ, have stockpiled bags of rice at a depot in Korhogo, a town in the north of Ivory Coast. Ivorians relish rice, which is grown in small-scale farms around the country.

Tamigue Soro, a manager of a rice-growers cooperative in the north, says technical support from the Germans had been a blessing during the critical period when obtaining food was a major problem.

After a failed coup attempt Sept. 19, 2002, a group of soldiers took up arms to fight what they claimed to be discrimination against northerners. For more than three years, several attempts to mediate the crisis have failed to restore peace or reunify the country.

Eight percent of the Ivorian population grows rice on an average plot of 0.8 hectares of irrigated land, according to the Association for Rice Growing Development in West Africa.

Mountain rice, grown in the west, is planted along with other crops like cotton and soy. Once the fields are prepared, it’s followed by sowing and application of fertiliser, Tuo Seriba, assistant director of a training group connected with GTZ, told IPS.

Weeding is done by hand and farmers do not have modern equipments to thresh and harvest the rice. The growing season for different varieties of rice in Ivory Coast varies between 105 and 130 days, according to Assoumane Konate of the National Centre for Agronomic Research.

Konate, a specialist in rice production, says 28 varieties of rice are cultivated in various regions of Ivory Coast. The mountainous west accounts for 51.4 percent of total production, while the north, centre, south and the east account for 20.5, 15.3, 9.5 and 3.2 percent respectively.

Sustainable rice production in Ivory Coast is constrained in several ways. They include droughts in the savannahs, soil erosion in mountainous regions and a profusion of weeds. In addition, an insufficient and irregular supply of seeds and other production needs also hamper the industry. The absence of well-defined policies on rice production and a lack of organisation among the producers also need to be overcome, according to Ange Traore, who produced more rice than cotton in the central district of Katiola this year.

Traore prefers growing rice because cotton prices are continuing to drop on the world market as a result of subsidies offered to cotton producers in the west, including the United States.

European subsidies on exported cotton represent only 3.5 percent of the total support that the European Union grants agriculture, whereas the United States offers the greatest subsidies to their cotton producers. Between August 1999 and July 2005 the figure was 18 billion dollars, according to Oxfam, an international charity.

U.S. farmers produced almost 23.4 billion dollars worth of cotton between 1999 and 2005. Subsidies on this amount came to 86 percent.

The latest World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit held in Hong Kong in December ended with a weak commitment to guarantee the rights of developing countries to protect their producers by eliminating, by the year 2013, subsidies.

The main cotton producing countries in West Africa affected by the subsidies – Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad – requested an 80 percent reduction in subsidies by the end of 2006, 10 percent by the end of 2007 and their total elimination by January 1, 2009.

The United States proposed eliminating all types of export subsidies, but a WTO court decision has already required this measure when payments represent no more than 10 percent of the total amount concerned.

Sustainable rice production depends greatly on appropriate policy that will provide support for farmers, including the provision of seeds, production needs and irrigation capabilities.

Kelemory Silue, a farmer in Korhogo, has appealed to donors to open dams or other water reserves onto low-lying lands that would be arable if flooded so that more farmers could take up rice production. From a nutritional self-sufficiency point of view, the production of rice is superior to that of other grains as it can be harvested twice a year.

Donissongui Kone, a cotton producer turned rice grower in the central Bouake region, told IPS, ”Thanks to growing rice, not only are my daily meals insured but I can also make ends meet, like my children’s health needs, by selling my surplus. And I no longer have to buy imported rice”.

Kone hopes that the rice industry will be acknowledged and organised by the government so that those interested in growing their own rice can receive more help.

Besides network maintenance activities, including 25 water supply points which were rehabilitated for the production of irrigated rice in central and northern Ivory Coast, German technical advisors also helped in the construction of warehouses and threshing areas.

Improvements in rice growing allowed some relief for people in the north and the west which have been occupied by rebels. More than 3,000 hectares of land were rehabilitated over the past three years by German technical advisors in shallows or next to water storage points or dams in Korhogo, Ferkessedougou, and Boundiali – all in the north and all very poor.

The improvements to arable land allowed 27,000 tonnes of irrigated rice to be produced twice a year in the north, according to the Ivorian Bureau of Development Assistance Training.

For researcher Konate, rice growing has become more a question of survival than income producing. But it still remains a low-intensity activity in Ivory Coast when compared to other income-generating crops such as cocoa, coffee, cotton and pineapples, upon which the country’s economy rests.

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