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U.S. to help West African cotton farmers

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced the launch of the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program, an initiative aimed at shoring up U.S. relations with the cotton sectors of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Senegal.

They made the announcement during a stop in Burkina Faso where Johanns and Portman met with agriculture ministers from the C4 countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — plus Senegal to discuss the new program and other ways to help cotton producers there.

Johanns said the program is based on an assessment conducted earlier this year by U.S. Agency for International Development and USDA specialists with experts from those countries on ways to improve cotton production, transformation, and marketing in the region.

National Cotton Council leaders issued a press release commending Johanns and Portman for their efforts in developing a program to improve the conditions confronting West African cotton producers. African producers have criticized the U.S. cotton program, blaming it for contributing to poverty in those countries.

“We are pleased to announce the allocation of $7 million — $5 million in fresh funding — to begin the work of this program,” said Johanns. “Because this program is a partnership between our countries, we have asked US-AID to hold a conference in this region soon after the Hong Kong Ministerial to get countries' input on the final touches of the program's design,” said Johanns.

“The West Africa Cotton Improvement Program is one more way the United States is specifically addressing the needs of cotton-dependent countries in Africa,” said Portman. “When combined with other measures like debt relief, eligibility for Millennium Challenge Account assistance, (Bush) administration efforts to end the Step 2 cotton program, and a bold proposal on agriculture in the World Trade Organization negotiations, the United States has taken real steps that can help West Africa, including its cotton farmers.”

To complement this program, Johanns and Portman announced that the National Cotton Council, which will be a key partner in the WACIP, intends to provide assistance in West Africa during the cotton harvest on recommended measures to control insects and the application of biotechnology.

The program results from more than a year of preparatory work involving the NCC, USDA, US-AID, several U.S. land grant universities and U.S. non-profit organizations, said Council Chairman Woods Eastland.

“The West Africa Cotton Improvement Program is a practical, pragmatic plan that can make a real difference in these citizens' lives,” he said. “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 Council has been involved in a number of outreach activities with the West African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. Last summer, cotton classers from the C4 countries spent two weeks at the Cotton Engineered Fiber Conference and at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Classing Office in Memphis, Tenn., learning about U.S. cotton classing.

Since then, specialists from the region have received training on cotton insect problems in Africa and shorter-term chemical and integrated pest management measures at a program conducted by the Council with the assistance of USDA and US-AID on soil fertility at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

“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.”

Johanns said the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program represents only one part of the overall U.S. response that will help these countries address the development obstacles in their cotton sectors. Other measures include:

  • Assistance through the new Millennium Challenge Corporation. The development agency offers an opportunity for many key countries to address long-term development obstacles in cotton.

    “It will result in hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the region in grant form in a way set by recipient countries,” he said. “Currently, Benin's proposal stands at $300 million; Mali's proposal at $212 million; and Senegal's proposal at $255 million. The MCC board of directors has also selected Burkina Faso as eligible to negotiate a compact with the MCC for a development program.

  • The G-8 debt relief package will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. This should free up resources for cotton.

  • The U.S. will be doubling aid to Africa by 2010 under our G-8 commitment. These countries will benefit from this pledge.

  • The new African Global Competitiveness Initiative, a $200 million, 5-year program, is being designed and will also help improve competitiveness and stimulate regional and international trade.

    “This new Initiative will be developed with our African counterparts,” said Johanns. “The program will help selected countries to diversify their trade and remove key barriers to expanding growth.”

  • US-AID will program $200 million a year over the next five years to support the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program, in which African Heads of State agreed to achieve and sustain a 6 percent annual agricultural growth rate.

Eastland said the NCC is also 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.

During their stop in Burkina Faso, Portman and Johanns met with trade and agriculture ministers from the five countries, listened to their concerns, discussed the U.S. agriculture proposal, and explored ways trade capacity building can be helpful. The WACIP is a direct response to requests made in meetings of the “development track” to cotton at the WTO.

Based on their assessment of the situations in the five countries, Johanns said the WACIP will focus on seven actions:

  1. Reduce soil degradation and expand the use of good agricultural practices.
  2. Strengthen private agricultural organizations.
  3. Establish a West African regional training program for ginners.
  4. Improve the quality of C-4 cotton through better classification of seed cotton and lint.
  5. Improve linkages between U.S. and West African agricultural research organizations involved with cotton.
  6. Improve the enabling environment for agricultural biotechnology.
  7. Policy/Institutional Reform.
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