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West African cotton production up, despite variable national trends

19 February 2012

USDA analysis of the West African cotton sector suggests that while weather events have affected the area planted and cotton yields, this season’s cotton production ‘could be as much as a third greater than last year’s production level’. At the WAEMU level, the regional cotton strategy to improve the competitiveness of the cotton/textile sector was amended in November 2010. The new 2011/20 regional cotton agenda has five objectives:

  • ‘Improve productivity of the cotton textile industry in the WAEMU zone
  • Improve quality of cotton in the WAEMU zone
  • Support development and promotion of cotton and textiles of the WAEMU zone in regional and international markets
  • Develop local processing of cotton fiber
  • Foster development and the promotion of the cotton seed.’

At the country level, in Côte d’Ivoire production seems likely to exceed 200,000 tonnes by as much as 50,000 tonnes according to USDA estimates. This is due to high farm gate prices following a 26% increase in June 2011, combined with the October 2011 decision to ‘slash input prices for MY 2011/12 by 25%’ in order to boost farmers’ incomes. The number of farmers sowing cotton is estimated to have increased by over one-third.

In Burkina Faso, a planting boycott by farmers following a failure to secure a 174% increase in farm gate prices is likely to see production substantially below the government’s targeted level of 600,000 tonnes. Indeed, according to USDA projections poor rains are likely to see production of around 380,000 tonnes. While organic cotton production is growing in Burkina Faso (+162%) as a result of a partnership with the US retailer Victoria’s Secret, it remains less than 0.5% of total national cotton production.

In Mali, despite efforts to promote production, late rains affected seed cotton production. Nevertheless, according to the USDA analysis, ‘production could be as much as 70 percent higher (410,000 tons) than MY 2010/11 (243,588 tons), reaching record levels not seen since MY 2006/07’. Local farmers remain interested in buying the Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles (CMDT). The handover of privatised companies in the Western and Southern regions to the Chinese company Yue Mei ‘is still expected to be finalised by December 2011’, although USDA suggests the deal still may not go ahead.

In Chad, restructuring of the cotton sector continues. While the government hopes to see production of 60,000 tonnes of seed cotton, USDA believes that production is likely to be only 40,000 tonnes.

In Senegal, abnormal rains are likely to reduce projected cotton production to 20,000 tonnes (from a target of 50,000 tonnes), despite a 24% increase in farm gate prices and the maintenance of input subsidies.

USDA estimates of West African cotton production (per thousand 480-lb bales; FCFA/kg)
Country MY 2009/10 MY2010/2011 MY 2011/12

Burkina Faso

- production

- farm gate price


168 ($0.38)


182 ($0.41)


245 ($0.55)


- production

- farm gate price


184 ($0.41)


185 ($0.42)


255 ($0.57)

Côte d’Ivoire

- production

- farm gate price


175 ($0.39)


210 ($0.47)


265 ($0.59)


- production

- farm gate price


180 ($0.40)


180 ($0.40)


215 ($0.48)


- production

- farm gate price


185 ($0.42)


205 ($0.46)


255 ($0.57)

Source: data extracted by author from USDA GAIN Report (see below). Production figures: from country-specific tables, pp. 7 – 9; farm gate prices from Table 2, p. 6.

World cotton prices have more than halved since March 2011, with a surplus of cotton output of 2.5 million tonnes. However according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, this surplus is expected to fall to zero in 2012/13 as consumption picks up and growers cut back on sowings in the face of lower prices. Morgan Stanley however forecast that US cotton sector support programmes will result in ‘lower US abandonment rates’, with this then ‘preventing a more pronounced year on year decline’ in cotton production.

Editorial comment

The analysis from Morgan Stanley suggests that US cotton sector policies may well result in a process of ‘adjustment displacement’ in response to lower global cotton prices, with this process of adjustment displacement falling particularly heavily on West African governments who are seeking to support local cotton production.

However the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) has forecast a drop in world production to 24.91 million tonnes in 2012/13 (compared to 26.788 million tonnes in 2011/12) and a rise in consumption to 24.69 million tonnes (23.886 million tonnes in 2011/12), hence a return to more positive fundamentals. At the global level, analysts have suggested that the area under cotton in the United States will fall in 2012/13, with on average 10% less sown than in 2011/12, when 14.72 million acres were planted. Production levels will depend on yield: in 2011, the drought in the south-east and south-west of the United States led to yields falling to 711 lb per acre. Whether farmers choose to grow cotton will also depend on the market price for soya and maize, which are currently more attractive in that respect than cotton.

The rainfed cultivation of cotton in Africa is a reminder that the crop is dependent on climatic factors – in 2011/12, cotton production in West Africa was substantially lower than forecast as a result of insufficient rains. However, climate is not the only variable. With the rise in markets in the first quarter of 2011, the cotton companies raised the prices they paid to farmers for the 2011/12 season – at over FCFA 245/kg, or €0.374 (except for Chad, at FCFA 215/kg or €0.328), these prices were at a historic high. These incentives have duly fulfilled their purpose in Mali, where production, even if it does not reach the targeted 500,000 tonnes, will nevertheless record a substantial increase. In Burkina Faso, on the other hand, discontent on the part of cotton farmers in some areas calling for a higher price for their produce led to some 100,000 ha of the crop being destroyed. In Senegal, despite the rise in prices paid to producers, production stagnated as a result of farmers mobilising more slowly than expected, as a result of outstanding payments not having been resolved, in contrast to Mali, for example.


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