Baba Berthe is the President, African Cotton Association (ACA), as well as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Malian Company for the Development of Textiles. In this interview, he speaks about the difficulties of cotton production in Africa and the preparations of ACA to host its annual conference in Nigeria next year.
There are challenges with the economy and neglect of agriculture for other resources. So how is cotton contributing to the development of African countries?
I was born in Mali where cotton is contributing to a large extent to the economy. When I went to Kenya last year to chair the ACA congress, I and my team travelled by the economy class. We noticed that many of those who bought our cotton came with private jets. It showed that we have something very important economically that we don’t exploit or know its importance. We produce cotton for others who benefit more. Cotton is a very important commodity but African countries have not mastered the price. We don’t know its value.
So the relegation of cotton production in many African countries is much.
Yes, it is. However, in Mali and Burkina Faso, cotton is the main cash crop. They produce and earn foreign exchange. After the governments of these countries remove their profit, the balance is shared among the farmers. Gold is also mined in Mali and sold, but the money is not distributed to the miners but is used in some other ways.
So cotton is the commodity that can be used in the fight against poverty. Also, in the 2016/2017 harvesting session, cotton production earned $330m for Malian farmers. But the amount is even little because there was value addition in the process. Besides, shirts that are produced with cotton are very expensive, and so many other things. We sell one kilogramme of cotton at $1.7cents but those who buy it, process it and resell to us at $25 to $30 depending on the value-addition. So when a shirt is made of cotton, it could be sold at $100. The difference is much.
This goes to show that cotton represents a high-level commodity which can greatly improve the economy of many African countries. The power of cotton to a country’s economy cannot be over-emphasised and that is why we are urging the Nigerian government to resuscitate the cotton industry so that other countries can follow her example.
What is African Cotton Association’s mission to Nigeria?
Since the organisation was established, congress is being held and rotated yearly from one country to another. The March 2015 edition was held in Chad, the 2016 edition in Kenya and at that conference, Nigeria was chosen for the 2018 edition to hold in March. As such, it is important that before the event, the African Cotton Association should visit the next host country and meet with critical stakeholders on how to go about organising the event. We are here to discuss with the National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN), stakeholders and the government on how to start preparations for the conference.
What is the anticipated number of people the sector would employ if fully developed?
The number will be difficult to evaluate, but we have to note that one company can employ hundreds of people in different capacities and sections of the production chain. And don’t forget, we have direct and indirect employments that can be derived. To show how cotton is very important is by looking at the oil extracted from it. In Mali, for instance, there are 80 cotton oil-producing mills with about 2.5 million litres combined capacity production. Each also has about 500 workers. The multiplier effect is huge.
What is ACA doing to boost technical expertise on production as most farmers still use manual means?
ACA is a very organised association. We do not have funds for companies or member countries for technological development. However, we have seed cotton production, classification, transportation, trading and ginning commissions where experts teach countries on these specialties. Recently, we organised a workshop in Garoua, Cameroon, on some technical issues that will lead to the promotion of cotton production: these are some of the things we do. In Mali and Burkina Faso, many cotton farmers are mechanised but more needs to be done.
With this scenario, how do you see cotton farming and production in the next few years?
The concern of ACA is to provide a link with governments of African countries. Every year we hold a meeting in one country or another. The 16th meeting will be in Nigeria in March next year. We are in Nigeria to prepare grounds for the meeting. We met with ECOWAS and they assured us that they are working on a regional strategy for the promotion of cotton from now to 2025. This is in collaboration with the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. We also met with the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) but could not meet with state governments, as we would have wished.
So, it is a strategy to meet high level organisations as a way forward. It is expected that after meeting with ECOWAS’ Department of Agriculture, they will make a report to the president of the commission who will in turn forward it to all member heads of state. By that, we are pushing our strategy.