Mali Ranking Amidst Top African Cotton Producers

Written by Soumaila Diarra

Mali is still one of African biggest cotton producers, according to local professionals who gathered on December 16 in Bamako, the Malian capital. Farmers are encouraged as the country’s last production is set to be a record after years of boycott by local producers.

As many rural people in the South of Mali are making a living with cotton, Sory Traore, a farmer living in the village of Sanankoroba had been dodging their footsteps.

“I didn’t grow cotton in the past two years. Last year and the year before, I couldn’t do it because of an unpredictable rainy season. I was discouraged by the lack of rains at the beginning of the rainy season,” he told AFKInsider.

Traore’s best experience with cotton production happened in the 90s when farmers could earn money from it. Like him, many Malian farmers had abandoned cotton because of the collapse of the prices on the international market. There were also management problems in the public company that buys cotton from farmers. According to Traore, who is the head of a farmers’ association, lots of producers went bankrupt.

They couldn’t win enough money out of cotton to pay back their credits and handle different monetary issues like buying cattle, financing marriages of children and other social expenditures.

Farmers and activists responded by organizing a campaign across the country in order to put pressure on the government.

“We had no other way to change things but boycotting cotton growing. As people could no longer earn money they decided to abandon planting cotton, which was one of the rare sources of income in rural areas,” Traore said.

Reforms working as an incentive

Villagers producing cotton still remember how bad their situation was when they had to wait for their money long after the harvests. Compagnie malienne pour le développement du textile (CMDT), the public company that buys cotton —  now running with private funds — used to pay the farmers with a delay of about ten months after the harvest.

Farmers say the company also had unequal rules leading all the producers of a village to pay part of insolvent farmers’ debts through a collective grant. Now, according to Kalfa Sanogo, the head of CMDT, farmers trust officials involved in the cotton industry as they improved management methods.

Malian authorities decided to increase the country’s cotton production, which had collapsed in the past two decades.

“A strategic development program to boost the production between 2013 and 2018 has been initiated by the government,” Sanogo said in a meeting on the country’s perspective of cotton production.

The communication officer of CMDT, Dramane Konate, told AFKInsider that Mali made a record of cotton production in 2014.

“Many farmers are coming back to cotton production and Mali is ranking amidst the biggest cotton producers of cotton in Africa. We produced 550 thousand tons in 2014 while in Egypt and Burkina Faso the production level is affected,” Konate said.

New initiatives adopted by the government have worked as incentives for the Malian farmers who can now make a living with cotton. According to Konate, the government buys cotton from the farmers at a good price, around 50 cents, though the price of cotton hasn’t been high on the international market in the past two years.

In addition, the producers almost receive their money right after the harvests. And the Malian government subsidizes fertilizers for both cotton and maize, which is one of the main staple crops of the regions producing cotton. According to Sanogo, more than 19 billion of local currency — CFA francs — have been used for subsidies.

Cotton increasing food security

In terms of rains, 2013-2014 wasn’t a year of abundance in Mali, or  in the entire Sahel region. Drought sequences and rains scattered in space and time — between May and June — affected cotton production.

“The sowings were concentrated in late June. In the first part of July, the farms couldn’t be fertilized because of a rain shortage,” Gaoussou Samake, a farmer told AFKInsider.

Meanwhile, the public company managing cotton production in Mali realized 89 percent of the surface it was planning to use for cotton in 2013- 2014. More than 450 hectares, according to officials, have been used despite drought sequences that developed insects —which destroyed cotton plants in the rainy season.

Cotton production is important for food security in Mali, according to the government which actually relies on the cotton producers in its struggle for food security.

“I still have my granary maze that I harvested in September 2013. When you grow cotton, you get access to fertilizers that can help you produce staple crops,” Samake added.

In 2013-2014, cotton producers realized 1,697,000 tons of cereal, including 822,000 tons of maize. Officials say this production is sufficient to cover food security in most regions of Mali. But the West African country also faces the adversity of the semi arid-climate dominating most of its agrarian regions.