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Côte d’Ivoire: A nation committed to a vibrant cotton sector

By Partheeban Theodore, Senior Vice President and Country Head Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal

Cotton has been cultivated for several decades in Côte d’Ivoire and in the past eight years, the total land under cotton has more than doubled from 185,000 to 400,000 hectares. This makes it the third largest producer of cotton in Africa after Burkina Faso and Mali. Growth has been stimulated by strong public-private engagement to create the right policy framework and a conducive operating environment.

The Ivorian government has backed the industry through farm input programmes and price support when needed. This, coupled with strong farm extension support and capacity building by the private ginners, has greatly benefited local communities and contributed to broader national socio-economic objectives. The government has laid out an ambition for the sector to reach 600,000 hectares by the year 2020.

Cotton and cashew are the two most important cash crops in the northern part of Côte d’Ivoire. There is also a very close link between cotton and cereal production in the country, with most cotton farmers encouraged and supported to grow cereals like maize alongside cotton. SECO, as part of its extension support to growers, provides some of the farm inputs for the maize crop, boosting the nation’s overall food security.

The government has implemented a mutually agreed pricing mechanism for cotton that predetermines the farmer prices at the start of each crop year and provides guidelines for the fair pricing of inputs. This has created a strong degree of certainty for both growers and cotton ginners. In the last three years the government has ensured a minimum farmer price for seed cotton of more than 250 CFA. These prices were supported through subsidies in 2015 and reduction in taxes in 2016. These moves have incentivised farmers to maintain or increase land devoted to cotton and helped to buffer farmers from price volatility or poor crops in some years.

A strong cotton industry governance framework in Côte d’Ivoire has created a fungible model for transparent, planned and objective development of the cotton sector across different cotton growing regions of the country. The government plays a pivotal role in ensuring smooth governance of the sector. Cotton sector activities are monitored by CCA (the advisory and regulatory body for the cotton and cashew sector in Côte d’Ivoire), which is mandated with enforcing a pricing mechanism in consultation with the industry and setting up processes and guidelines for various players associated with the sector.

CCA monitors ginners’ activities through FIRCA (Fonds Interprofessionnel pour la Recherche et le Conseil Agricoles) which has stipulated, among other things, a recommended ratio of field staff to number of farmers and hectares of planted area covered, to ensure the required personal attention and focus on farm extension support to the farmers. FIRCA conducts annual audits and provides scores for each ginner’s quality of service to the farmers. This benchmarking exercise enables the sector to then seek the required support from government and non-governmental agencies for key initiatives such as soil testing, R&D and other aided farmer support programmes.

The government has also been fundamental in facilitating an active dialogue in the sector through Intercoton or the Interprofession – a representative body that regroups all players in the cotton value chain including growers, ginners, cotton seed oil millers and textile players. The objective of the Interprofession is to foster constant dialogue between all value chain partners so that the interests of the entire value chain are taken into consideration before any policy support or regulation comes into force.

The cotton ginners association of Côte d’Ivoire, known as APROCOT, represents the ginners at the Interprofession. Through APROCOT, the ginners are able to represent their interests and contribute to making the cotton sector a more competitive and viable one. SECO plays a leadership role within APROCOT.

Commencing crop year 2017/18, the government has also allocated exclusive zones to each ginner. This provides an attractive platform for SECO to grow.

For ginners like SECO, the framework put in place jointly by the government and the industry provides the necessary assurances to commit to long term investments. This framework has had a significant impact in encouraging modernisation of farming practices and improvements in total crop care leading to improved yields.

A new initiative for better plant nutrition is being rolled out to test soils in different regions and customise the micro-nutrient requirement for specific soil types. Experimental initiatives in mechanisation are underway to enable farmers to better adapt to challenges posed by erratic rainfall patterns, shorter sowing windows, labour constraints and a parallel focus to increase the overall area under cultivation. The extensive farmer franchise and intensive engagement with farmers has created an ideal platform for innovative IT applications to engage farmers and eventually link them to digital payment options.

SECO has made great strides in Côte d’Ivoire over the past eight years and has been an active innovator and thought leader in the sector. Close cooperation among industry participants, pro-active and enabling policies, synergistic efforts across the supply chain and an engaged and committed government have shown the power of multiple stakeholders pulling in one direction to deliver sustainable benefits for all.

Standards for sustainable agriculture. Effective government policies and cooperation among various stakeholders in the supply chain have helped deliver sustainable benefits for all.