MEMPHIS – National Cotton Council Chairman Woods Eastland today commended Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman for their efforts in developing a program to improve the conditions confronting West African cotton producers.
The program, announced by Ambassador Portman and Secretary Johanns, results from more than a year of preparatory work involving the National Cotton Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (US-AID), several U.S. land grant universities and U.S. non-profit organizations.
“The West Africa Cotton Improvement Program is a practical, pragmatic plan that can make a real difference in these citizens’ lives,” Eastland stated. “It has the potential to improve the infrastructure that supports cotton production, ultimately returning a higher portion of sales proceeds to individual African cotton producers.”
Since early 2004, the National Cotton Council (NCC) has been involved in a number of outreach activities with the West African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. These efforts are aimed at helping rural Africans live better.
“All of the U.S. cotton industry’s work has been in close cooperation with USDA and US-AID,” Eastland said. “The United States’ efforts will provide real and meaningful benefits for West African cotton producers. However, I want to remind cotton producers around the world that the real challenge we face is to increase demand for our product. Aggressive advertising and promotion is needed to convince consumers of cotton’s benefits over synthetic fibers. The producer-funded campaign operated in the U.S. has helped increase demand in our retail market, but more promotion worldwide is needed.”
Eastland listed a chronology of efforts that underscore the commitment of the U.S. cotton industry and the U.S. government to assist in the development of agriculture in these countries:
- In June 2004, then NCC Chairman Woody Anderson, a Texas producer, participated in a Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Technology in Burkina Faso and traveled to its cotton growing areas with a U.S. delegation. During the conference, a memorandum of understanding between USDA and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation was signed with the intent of accelerating the transfer and dissemination of technologies developed by USDA scientists to West African researchers and the region’s farmers. The West African ministers attending the ministerial adopted a resolution that 1) called for greater research and investment in agricultural biotechnology and 2) recommended the creation of a West African center for biotechnology.
- In July 2004, the NCC helped organize U.S. cotton industry orientation sessions and a tour of U.S. cotton production, processing, marketing and research facilities for these West African countries’ ambassadors and ministers. They explored ways in which West Africa can modernize its cotton industries. Immediately following its U.S. Cotton Belt tour, the West African contingent met in Washington, DC, with U.S. cotton industry representatives to discuss investment needs and opportunities, and with U.S. government officials to discuss a range of available technical assistance and capacity building programs.
- In October 2004, a team of government and cotton industry technical advisors toured several of the West African countries to assess needs and identify both short and long-term opportunities for cooperative efforts and assistance. That tour included Bill Norman, NCC’s vice president of Ginner Services.
- In January 2005, a high-level U.S. government delegation traveled to Mali to address developmental aspects of the West African cotton industry. The delegation was comprised of officials from USDA, the State Department, US-AID and the NCC. Discussions focused on cooperative project proposals designed to help West African cotton farmers improve their crops by more effective use of fertilizers, water management, biotechnology and integrated pest management.
- In June 2005, cotton classing officials from four West African countries participated in a cotton classification and standards training program co-sponsored by the NCC and organized and funded in cooperation with the USDA Cochran Fellowship Program and US-AID. The West African officials received an orientation to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) cotton classification and standards program, including High Volume Instrumentation classification procedures, calibration standards and other USDA-AMS cotton program functions. While in Memphis, they participated in the Cotton Incorporated Engineered Fiber Selection conference, observed the Universal Cotton Standards conference and received a NCC orientation.
- US-AID and NCC, along with TuskegeeUniversity, implemented a two-week training session on integrated pest management with entomologists from the West African region. These scientists are learning ways to incorporate technologies that will foster adoption of integrated pest management principals in cotton production. Training on soil conservation and fertility also is a part of this program.
- NCC is working with USDA and US-AID to offer a cotton ginning “school” in West Africa. This facility would be fashioned after the ginning schools held annually at the three U.S. cotton ginning laboratories cooperatively with USDA and the National Cotton Ginners Association. Plans are under development for follow-up trips to West Africa by U.S. teams to continue training programs.
NCC President and CEO Mark Lange reiterated the U.S. cotton industry’s commitment to share its knowledge and experiences with the West African producers. He also added that hurdles remain within these countries that will take time to overcome.
“The lingering aftermath of French colonialism is evident,” Lange noted. “The continued reliance on a monopolistic, parastatal ginning and marketing system generates lower revenue to cotton farmers. Our efforts can improve the situation but internal reform is also needed.”