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Cotton in West Africa

The Economic and Social Stakes

image of Cotton in West Africa

In West Africa, approximately 16 million people depend directly or indirectly on cotton cultivation. But subsidies in the developed world have suppressed cotton prices and have made it difficult for West African producers to compete.  Compounding the problem, WTO negotiations on the problem have been suspended.  This publication contends that the dialogue between developed and developing countries on this topic must continue. It sets out the regional stakes linked to the economic and social importance of cotton in West Africa. It retraces the consultation process on the West African cotton crisis with the aim of finding a negotiated solution acceptable to all parties. Also discussed are the challenges and the measures that need to be taken over the medium and long term in order to prevent this sub-sector’s sudden collapse.

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Introduction

Sahel and West Africa Club

Hundreds of varieties of cotton grain exist in Africa, some of which are indigenous and have been traced back to the 10 and 13th centuries. Cotton has played an important part in the economic development of a number of West African countries and has remained a key source of livelihood for many. Cotton has been grown in West Africa1 for more than a hundred years and a significant traditional textile industry has existed in the region for more than 50 years (see e.g. Gardi 2003). In recent decades, volumes of cotton produced have exponentially increased. For example, in Mali alone production has risen from some 61 000 tonnes in the mid-1970s to more than 500 000 tonnes per year in 1997.

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