Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT: Rescuing West Africa’s Faltering Cotton Industry

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Jul 24 2002 (IPS) - Urgent action is needed to save West Africa’s cotton industry, on which some 10 million people depend, from collapsing, stakeholders and experts have said.

If the industry collapses, the effects will be felt across much of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) whose members Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo grow the cash crop. The eight countries û whose economies depend on cotton — use a common currency, the CFA.

Last month cotton experts and WAEMU agriculture ministers met in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, to seek a solution to the crisis.

Cotton provides ‘’income and employment for both rural and city dwellers, ” explains Felix Dansou, WAEMU official in-charge of rural development.

In 1970, production reached 350,000 metric tonnes, before jumping to 2.3 million metric tonnes in 1998.

Unfortunately, the price of cotton, on the world market, has hit its lowest level ever. In three years, a kilogramme of cotton fibre dropped from 71 U.S. cents to 38 cents, creating an unprecedented crisis.

Overproduction and subsidies in the United States, Australia, China and India û all major producers — have partly been blamed for the fall of cotton price on the international market.

Francois Traore, president of the National Union of Cotton Producers of Burkina Faso, says ‘’highly mechanised farming in America seriously threatens small-scale cotton production in Africa”.

‘’Those countries which subsidise their producers should stop lecturing us about fighting poverty,” he says.

‘’The United States should stop subsidising their cotton producers or, financially, compensating them. If they don’t want to stop, it will also, in our view, be unfair for international financial institutions to insist that we privatise our agricultural industries,” notes Sebastian Dano Djedje, the Ivorian Minister of Agriculture.

Djedje is the president of the Committee for Exportable Agricultural Products of the Conference of West and Central African Agriculture Ministers. The committee has adopted a memorandum for a common strategy against the competitive edge of western producers.

WAEMU processes only five percent of the cotton it produces, and exports the remainder as raw material. This makes cotton-producing West African nations even more vulnerable.

In Lome, the capital of Togo, a committee has been formed to improve the level of awareness among government bodies. It is hoped that they will request their partners (donors) to forge economic policy agreements for the region.

‘’This would allow them (the donors) to include some assistance for addressing the problems affecting cotton industry in their aid strategies,” says Bernard Adikpeto, a consultant in Lome.

‘’A regional strategy to promote and develop the cotton industry is necessary because it occupies an important place in the economy of these countries,” emphasises Ibrahim Macoudou Fall, the president of the Organisation of Cotton and Textile Industries of WAEMU Countries. ‘’The most practical thing to grow in this region is cotton.”

In Abidjan, the WAEMU agriculture ministers adopted a common position during negotiations, on cotton, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They developed strategies to include bilateral negotiations with countries that subsidise cotton, as well as ‘’the free trade of cotton and unprocessed materials” between WAEMU countries.

The consequences of the cotton crisis are obvious in the slowdown of economic growth and the increasing poverty in WAEMU zone.

‘’When you’re set on eradicating poverty, you need to organise talks like this in order to take the lay of the land and establish immediate measures to end the crisis,” says Boni Yayi, president of the West African Development Bank.

In spite of the bank’s 50 billion CFA (76.9 million U.S. dollars) financing of ginning mills and other facilities where cottonseed and cotton fibre can be processed, WAEMU still does not have a concrete policy on cotton processing.

WAEMU countries constitute the world’s third largest exporter of cotton, surpassed only by the United States and Uzbekistan. The 800,000 metric tonnes they export is the equivalent of Europe’s entire annual use of the fibre. They occupy an important place in the international cotton trade.

At the same time, the entire CFA zone, which produces 4.4 percent of the world’s cotton, constitutes the sixth largest global producer. Around 2.2 million hectares in the zone are devoted to cotton growing. Of the ten CFA countries, which produce cotton, 73 percent is grown in Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire.

‘’With a weak five percent processing rate, WAEMU countries depend too much on the world market, which is a serious handicap they must eventually overcome,” says Yayi.

Some hard-liners are already pushing for ‘’tariff” to protect WAEMU’s textile industry.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

anger books