So central is the issue of cotton to Benin’s agricultural strategy, so important is the issue of cotton for our country’s growth and so important is the issue of cotton for our jobs. In Benin, cotton represents 40% of foreign exchange earnings, 12% to 13% of gross domestic product, some 60% of national industry and an income for over a third of the population. The figures speak for themselves.
I have known how Cotton Made in Africa, with whom I first met in January 2017, are committed to African cotton. So, I am keen to congratulate them on their work, and on their commitment to Africa and to Benin.
Africa accounts for some 6% of world cotton production and over 9% of world cotton exports. Cotton directly provides an income for over 20 million people across Africa. In that context, Benin is one of the three (3) largest cotton producers on the continent. That is particularly true this year, 2016-2017, with a record season of 450,000 tons. Production on that scale is down to the reforms introduced in the sector in recent years.
Benin’s agricultural sector has witnessed far-reaching institutional reforms, which have led to the state stepping back from commercial and production roles. Despite its shortcomings, that process has enabled the emergence and empowerment of new players, not least smallholder farmers’ organizations, craftspeople, and agribusinesses in the field of seed production, transportation, credit, and the processing and bringing to market of cottonseed. With the private sector involved every step of the way, we are sure production can keep up its healthy growth. For the 2017-2018 seasons, Beninese cotton producers have sowed 530,000 hectares of fields, so it is hoped that cotton production next season will be over 500,000 tons. That is at least X billion for Benin’s producers, Y billion for its transporters and Z billion for its banks.
Despite that encouraging backdrop, cotton production in Africa, specifically Benin, is still rudimentary and in the hands of smallholder farmers. There is an upside to this, in that it makes it easier for the benefits of increased cotton production to trickle down to the poorest households. The challenge that it presents, however, is sustainability. I am delighted that the Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA) initiative forms part of that dynamic.
CmiA- an Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTf) initiative- represents a prestigious sustainability standard for African Cotton. In 2016, 50 million textiles bore the CmiA label, thereby giving visibility to the impact you are having on moving towards a more sustainable future for the cotton and textiles industry at international level.
It is, therefore, good news for Benin that the ICA and SODECO are re-joining this international label, after the country lost its classification, having been one of the first involved in the initiative when it started out in 2005. In doing so, Benin is nailing its colors to the mast of one of the best standards in the world, which it hopes to use as a springboard to help it get out in front of the other producers of high-quality cotton in Africa and worldwide.
One by-product of this approach is to substantially improve smallholder farmers’ well-being, by keeping an eye on production condition, but also, in particular, by ensuring that production takes place in environmentally friendly conditions that do not over exploit natural resources. But we also want to be more integrated into the value chain. That is exactly what we are doing with the Governments Action Plan, which is intended, among other things, to boost the social, environmental and economic performance of agricultural production, along with its value added.
In my capacity as minister responsible for development, I should like to draw your attention to concerns that I think it is important to address in relation to CmiA. Our countries are still struggling to identify the best way of financing agriculture: traditional forms of financing, such as banks, and alternative ones, such as microcredit, are demonstrating their shortcomings on a daily basis. We therefore need to explore new ways and innovative solutions. I should like to think that CmiA and the Aid by Trade Foundation will have a serious look at the concern.
Benin is committed to the SDGs and has so far been considered to be setting a good example in terms of taking ownership of the SDGs. Accordingly, we consider issues relating to soil fertility and bio pesticides, preservation of our plant life, a fair balance between cultivable land and forest cover, and standards and working conditions for those involved in the sector to be of the greatest interest. I should like those concerns to be significant factors in deliberations.
By Abdoulaye Bio Tchane
Minister for Planning and Development,
Republic of Benin.