Cotton's fluctuating fortunes in Africa
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CTA. 1992. Cotton's fluctuating fortunes in Africa. Spore 37. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45671
In the course of the last 30 years cotton-growing has expanded steadily in the savanna lands of francophone Africa. On the other hand, during the same period, production in the English-speaking countries has declined sharply. Now, however, all the...
In the course of the last 30 years cotton-growing has expanded steadily in the savanna lands of francophone Africa. On the other hand, during the same period, production in the English-speaking countries has declined sharply. Now, however, all the cotton producers are threatened by plummeting world markets, low producer prices, increasingly expensive inputs and demanding quality requirements. In 1960 90% of the cotton produced in sub-Saharan Africa came from the anglophone countries; this figure has now dropped to 55%. Production in francophone Africa, on the other hand, has shown an increase and these countries now harvest nearly half the continent's cotton crop. Production in Sudan, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria, which for years were the top producers (apart from Egypt), dropped considerably in the 1970s. Of all the English-speaking countries, only Zimbabwe has managed to increase its production. The rise in cotton production in francophone West Africa has been spectacular. The area under cultivation has doubled in the past three decades, and stands at a million hectares. Cotton now accounts for ten times the area it did in 1981. Central Africa, however, has seen a small decline. Seed cotton yields have also rocketed, thanks to the distribution of higher performance varieties, with production rising from 400kg/ha in 1970 to more than 1000kg/ha today. The ginning percentage (the percentage of fibres removed from the seed cotton) is also on the increase and Africa holds the world record with more than 40%. All this has meant that since 1960 cotton production has increased 36-fold in francophone West Africa, 13-fold in Madagascar, and by a factor of 2.8 in Central Africa. Anglophone Africa's sharp decline So what has caused such a disparity between neighbouring countries with very similar production potentials? The year 1976 saw the abolition of the UK-based Cotton Research Corporation (formerly the ECGC) after 55 years of continuous service to African and Caribbean countries. Although the Corporation was widely regarded as being one of the most cost-effective of Britain's development assistance agencies, the UK Government and other donors were unable to offer a financial package that would enable the Corporation to continue. This was partly a result of the emphasis being given to food crop development at the time, and partly a consequence of the overall lack of financial resources following the 1974 oil crisis. In many of the anglophone countries in which Corporation staff had worked, productivity subsequently faltered and the quality of the fibre failed to meet changing market needs. Production was not properly structured and seed was not distributed regularly for sowing; as a result it gradually lost its varietal purity. Also, infrastructures were not maintained and so vehicles, depots and ginneries were allowed to fall into disrepair. Marketing difficulties added to the decline. Farmers had to wait too long to be paid for their crop, credit was scarce, and many small-scale farmers were no longer in a position to buy necessities such as fertilizers and pesticides. Cotton, traditionally grown on an extensive basis, was no longer economically viable. Food crops became more attractive and cotton had less and less to offer the peasant farmer. More research effort has been put into food crops and new varieties have led to high production increases, for example, that of maize in Nigeria and rice in Tanzania. Food crops nowadays provide a more lucrative and reliable source of income, especially since the purchase price of cotton has fallen and the cost of fertilizers and pesticides has risen. For example, in 196670 Nigeria produced 50,000 tonnes of cotton fibre, but only 10,000 in 1985. Similarly, in Uganda the harvest has been reduced from 76,000t to 6,000t, in Mozambique it has dropped from 43,000 to 11,000t, and in the Sudan from 205,000 to 142,000t. It should not be forgotten, however, that these countries have gone through long periods of political and social upheaval and cotton was not the only crop to suffer. In most anglophone countries indifference on the part of the government has gone hand-in-hand with a reduction in the area under cotton cultivation. Producers are no longer interested in a crop which is not backed by research, training, organized marketing, and which is also costly in terms of labour and chemicals. Lately, however, the authorities in these countries seem to have woken up to the problem, and are initiating rescue programmes. A finely-tuned operation in French-speaking Africa The picture is very different in french-speaking Africa, where cotton is assuming an ever more important place in the economy. In countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad, cotton now accounts for 40-60% of the export trade and 5-7% of the gross domestic product. In Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Senegal, cotton is of secondary importance nationally but is the principal source of income for entire regions within these countries. In the savanna zones cotton is now the only crop which brings in regular cash-income. Its success is the result of highly efficient organization in the producing countries. The cotton companies were originally set up by the Compagnie Francaise pour le Développement des Textiles (CDFT), but were Africanized in the 1970s. Generally speaking all cotton producing activities (production, processing, marketing), come under the aegis of these companies. This vertical integration of the activities ensures better operation and coordination. The farmers are well-informed and trained. They can buy their seed, fertilizers and pesticides on credit, and supply is constant. Technical advice and support are available to them throughout the season. Above all, they can be sure of a pre-set and guaranteed price for their crop, paid on delivery. The French institute for research on cotton and exotic textiles (IRCT) also offers support in the shape of improved seed varieties, improved spraying schedules and assessment of fertilizer requirements. This kind of help is largely responsible for the enormous increase in production levels of the past 30 years. The whole cotton network, which is highly organized, efficient and stable, with considerable human and material resources, instills confidence in the small-scale cotton producers. From being the 'Bwana's' compulsory crop, cotton has now become a crop of the people and attachment to it explains the amazing expansion of cotton in the savanna zones, where it has become the mainspring of development. Cotton the engine of development This increasing intensification of cotton growing has given farmers access to modern agricultural techniques, use of improved seed, crop protection products and mineral fertilizers, all of which are in general use today. In 1987-88, 77% of the cotton producing land had fertilizer applications of 145kg/ha, and 79% received three applications of fertilizer. The income generated by cotton gives farmers the means of acquiring livestock and the necessary equipment for animal traction. This introduction to mechanization, which means that ploughing can be five times as fast, is most advanced in the cotton zones (53% of all agricultural land in 198788). In Mali draft power is used on 90% of all cotton-growing holdings. The cotton companies contributed significantly to the development of draft power by setting up animal training units, by popularizing the practice and by ensuring the availability of the necessary equipment. They also boosted progress towards intermediate mechanization by promoting small tractors and by undertaking their assembly, delivery, technical follow-up and after-sales service. However, the use of these tractors remains limited even though they were specifically designed for use in cotton growing. These companies have now extended their interests beyond the development of cotton growing alone. In most of the countries under discussion they have taken over the technical aspects and even the marketing and promoting of food crops. In Cameroon in 1987 SODECOTON supported the intensification of 38,000ha of maize, the same area of groundnuts and 35,000ha of sorghum. In Mali, a maize programme by the Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles (CMDT), which was launched ten years ago in the south of the country, has become a model for the whole of West Africa. New, more productive varieties and more intensive growing methods have been introduced and these have given yields a considerable boost, reaching three tonnes/ha in the cotton zone. Because these yields exceeded needs for family consumption, outlets were needed, and CMDT assisted in the installation of mills which produce processed foodstuffs (flour, 'maize flour' and semolina) which are easier to market. A cotton buying-post Cotton-growing benefits the development of food crops in another way: crops thrive on the residue of the fertilizers used on the cotton and as a result the most productive farms are in the cotton-growing regions. Furthermore, cotton companies frequently undertake such improvement programmes as the construction of roads, tracks, schools and dispensaries. The cotton business has also given rise to professional associations for farmers, and these can be influential: recently some of these groups in Mali took part in CMDT board meetings. Another result of the presence of the cotton companies is improved infrastructure, the building of depots for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and ginneries. In ten francophone African states in West Africa all cottonseed is ginned at the place of production and most is pressed for oil. The cottonseed-cake is usually used for cattle feed. On the other hand, only 10% of the fibre is processed in local factories, with most going for export. The African fibre, which is harvested by hand, is much sought after for its quality, which gives it an advantage on the international market. Fall in world price Until 1985 cotton prices on the world market remained high and everyone benefited: the peasant farmers who were getting generous subsidies on chemicals made a comfortable income; the cotton companies made good profits; and the governments got substantial tax revenue. But in the course of a few years this has changed. In May 1984 a kilo of fibre sold at US$3.18, while 15 months later the price had dropped to US$0.94. The bottom [elf out of the market because a bumper harvest coincided with the arrival of highly competitive Chinese cotton. In one year alone the cotton companies announced losses of 100 billion FCFA which was too much to be absorbed by national budgets. Despite a slight improvement in the past year or so, the market is once again heading downward. This time a record crop in the USA and the sale of cotton from the former Soviet Union are responsible. For the African producers this situation has emphasized the downside of the present system. The current selling price of cotton means that the companies are no longer in a position to help the farmers financially. After 1986 reorganization was instituted in order to cut costs and some reductions have resulted from stringent economies. It has been accepted that the costs of farmer training and rural development can no longer be borne by cotton production alone. Subsidies for chemicals have been abolished and the peasant farmers have had to pay the market price. The village associations have gradually taken over marketing and the price paid to the producer has fallen sharply. Most countries have now fixed a minimum of approximately 80-100 FCFA for each season, although if the market price goes up the farmers get more. As a result, some farmers are now questioning the viability of cotton, and in some places less land is being used for the crop. Facing the challenge Reorganizing cotton production does not guarantee that it will be viable. Competition is increasingly fierce and to withstand it productivity will have to rise again, quality improve further and all cotton products will have to be profitable. Yields can be increased by much heavier applications of fertilizer, especially in densely-populated areas where there is no possibility of land lying fallow. But farmers cannot afford more fertilizer when their income has fallen and research is under way to find a less expensive solution, perhaps a closer link between agricultural and pastoral systems. Other cost-cutting exercises which are being investigated include adjusting the timing of sprayings to suit individual situations, using different types of insecticides and reducing the quantity of pesticides used. Quality control is becoming more and more stringent and the producing countries must take account of this if they wish to meet market needs and sell their cotton at a good price. The new spinning method, (called 'open end') where the lap or sliver is processed into yarn by feeding it through a disc which spins at 70,000rpm, can be used only for short, fine, tough fibres which are completely clean. New measuring techniques monitor fibre quality extremely rapidly. Another approach to increasing the competitiveness of cotton is the development of 'landless cotton, the by-products of which have more uses than those of conventional varieties (see Box). Countries or regions whose economies rely on cotton will have to put much more effort into improved production and diversification if they are to survive in a changing market. Cotton in west and central Africa, present and future (Le coton en Afrique de l'ouest et du centre, situation et perspectives) by the Groupe de travail cooperation francais 23 quai Voltaire, 75340 Paris cedex 07 FRANCE