Burkina Faso: Cotton growers gain some victories and many promises (by Nourou-Dhine Salouka for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

| July 11, 2011

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Cotton production resumed quietly in the small town of Sara after farmers won a victory in their fight with SOFITEX, the leading company in Burkina Faso which buys and processes cotton. Sara lies 280 kilometres west of the capital, Ouagadougou. Local farmers now weed contentedly under the hot sun after returning to their fields.

Domboué Lawrence is president of the union of cotton farmers in Sara. He said: “We got some of the things we were asking for. We are working in the cotton fields again.”

Residents of Samandéni, 120 kilometres further west, are also enthusiastic about having their demands met. The village cotton producer group has increased the area planted to cotton. Noufou Dabo is the treasurer of the group. He explains: “We are all prepared to produce more than last season. Already we have gone from 90 hectares sown in 2010, to 105 hectares this season.”

The renewed interest in cotton contrasts with the violent protests in June. Some farmers threatened not to produce the valuable fibre this year. But others had already planted and did not support abandoning the crop. Angry farmers destroyed some of the newly-planted fields. Police intervened to prevent them from pulling up all the young cotton plants.

A wave of protests rocked Burkina Faso between February and June this year. Taking advantage of this, growers demanded improvements in the cotton industry.

One demand concerned the price of key inputs. Valentin Bonzi is a cotton producer in Kosso, in the west of the country. In May, he said, “We demand that the old prices take effect. We used to pay 13,200 CFA for a bag of fertilizer. Today, the same bag costs 16,000 CFA. A bag of urea is sold at 19,000 CFA today. Four years ago it cost 14,200 CFA.”

The producers also demanded payment of 255 CFA per kilogram of cotton. They currently receive 245. They called for the departure of SOFITEX’s director, Celestine Tiendrébéogo. Cotton farmers charge that Mr. Tiendrébéogo’s behaviour is insulting. They claim he has treated them like thieves who are trying to bring down the industry.

Farmers accused the government of failing to address their concerns. Faced with the discontent of the country’s most important agricultural sector, the government pledged support. The new Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture have met many times with cotton producers.

The government is now taking steps to appease the farmers’ anger. Celestin Tiendrébéogo, who was head of SOFITEX for 16 years, was removed from office. Inputs such as fertilizer and urea have been subsidized.

Farmers welcomed these steps. Noufou Dabo, the producer from Samandéni, said: “The Prime Minister has shown goodwill by dismissing Celestin and lowering input costs.”

In addition, the Prime Minister has promised to increase the selling price of cotton and reduce input costs for next season. But Noufou Dabo warns, “For now, we feel that we won, but if he does not keep his promises, we will implement our threats.”