The traditional competitive advantage conferred to hand-picked West African cotton has been lost in recent years. A consistent decline in the region’s market share is due primarily to cotton contamination: the presence of foreign organic matter such as leaves, stems and pest residue; inorganic matter such as metal, wire and industrial dust; and packing material such as nylon fibers, polypropylene, paper and other manufactured agents. Contamination in any raw cotton product causes down-time in processing, customer rejection of the raw or finished product, costly claims and penalties, lower prices and, inevitably, the loss of customers or end-market buyers. As a result of the contamination issue, West African hand-picked cotton is now priced below U.S. and Australian machine-picked cotton, and some spinners refuse to purchase the contaminated cotton altogether, even at significant discounts.
Biannual survey results from the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) from 1999-2007 show worldwide levels of contamination to be generally stable. However, a recent study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia indicated that the level of contaminants in West African cotton is the highest in the world – so much so that Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali were included on the list of “most contaminated” sources of cottons. According to a separate ITMF report, Malian cotton showed a 31 percent contamination rate in 2007, compared with 17 percent in 1999 and 11 percent in 1991. Contamination in Burkinabe and Ivorian cotton showed similar increases.
The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and major international traders estimate that West African countries lose between two and three percent of the value of their cotton due to world market perception that harvests are contaminated with foreign matter. The result was a cotton sector loss of $12-$18 million in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali in the 2008-2009 cropping season alone.
The debilitating financial crisis and lower market prices faced by West African cotton companies over the past five seasons have greatly hindered their capacity to address the contamination issue in a sustainable manner. However, with renewed international commitment and support, the opportunity now exists to identify and expand best practices across the region, and put in place the incentives needed to make these practices financially sustainable.
The Prevention of Seed Cotton Contamination in West Africa project (2009-2013) assists cotton companies, producer organizations and 27,000 farmers in the West African nations of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali to reduce contamination in 100,000 tons of seed cotton. As part of the All ACP Agricultural Commodities Program, the pilot program is funded by the European Union (EU) as well as by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), an inter-governmental financial institution established by the United Nations. The project is sponsored by the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC).
The project is designed to demonstrate that enhanced efforts to produce uncontaminated cotton lint are rewarded with higher prices on the world market, thus increasing revenues for both cotton companies and smallholder farmers. This financial incentive is expected to compel enterprises and producers to work toward eliminating cotton contamination on a sustained basis.
The most prevalent man-made cotton contaminants are the commonly used polypropylene (PP) bag and transportation tarp. Used to hold or cover raw cotton at the farm level, the bags and tarps transfer PP elements to the product through rigorous contact. Undetectable to the naked eye, this contamination does not become apparent until the dyeing process in manufacturing, at which point the PP, which is resistant to dyes, is revealed as sporadic imperfections in the finished product. Distribution chain issues are also a primary cause of contamination. Cotton often sits exposed to dirt and the elements at village collection centers before transport to the gins (often in trucks that are not clean or properly covered). At these facilities, the product may be stored under poor conditions before ginning. If not handled with special care at the gin, baled properly and wrapped in PP-free material, even lint from clean seed cotton can become contaminated during and after ginning.
The project focuses on eliminating contamination primarily through training, public awareness campaigns and incentive programs at regional, national, sub-national, community and farm levels. IFDC is making farmers, producer organizations, transporters, ginners and purchasers aware of the negative impact of contamination, and is promoting their efforts to address the issue, while providing the training and incentives required to enlist their participation.
In addition, the project: makes farmers and others in the cotton supply chain such as transporters and laborers aware of critical issues and trains them in reducing contamination; provides information on better pest control and harvest practices, collection, handling and transport practices; and highlights the value of low-tech collection bags and tarps made of natural materials. The project is implementing an exchange program that allows farmers to exchange their contaminating polypropylene sacks and tarps for those made of cotton (at a cost of $64 for each participating farmer). IFDC is also working with the cotton companies to ensure the handling of cotton in a manner that preserves quality through the entire process and captures higher prices.
IFDC conducts continual advocacy to ensure that the necessary practices and regulations are altered so cotton farmers can be rewarded for better quality cotton at both the local and national levels. At the local level, the program establishes a base/minimum/assured price per kilogram of uncontaminated seed cotton at the beginning of the season. At the national level, a profit-sharing program ensures that the higher profits obtained by the cotton companies due to higher cotton quality are redistributed to farmers. This assured minimum pricing, combined with profit-sharing between companies and growers, provides a dependable system of benefits in the premium pricing and sale of contaminant-free cotton.
The project complements existing IFDC project efforts to improve cotton quality and strengthen the cotton value chain to the benefit of growers, enterprises and national economies. IFDC’s project approach is to:
- Establish sustainable pilot supply mechanisms for uncontaminated seed cotton in the three selected countries by strengthening commercially effective partnerships.
- Encourage special handling, processing and branding of uncontaminated seed cotton by the cotton companies to allow clean cotton to receive premium pricing that is then shared with growers.
- Improve the reputation of West African cotton in international markets and, eventually, improve the textile industry’s perception of the region’s cotton.
- Conduct advocacy and work toward a system that allows farmers to be paid premiums directly based on the quality of their own cotton yields.
- Contribute to rural livelihoods through increased value-addition by farmers.
- Employ a strategy that can be quickly implemented and is sound, easily understood and transparent.
- Encourage all members of the cotton value chain to upgrade their operations and become more responsive to market demands and opportunities.
Project for the Prevention of Seed Cotton Contamination in West Africa Information
Project for the Prevention of Seed Cotton Contamination in
West Africa (European Union/Common Fund for Commodities Project) (Taken from IFDC Report Volume 36, No.1)
Coton de l'UEMOA
Prevention of Seed Cotton Contamination in West Africa Brochure (English and French)