“Our life starts with cotton and it ends with cotton.” Thus Kefa Diarra, Fana cotton producer, opens the debate on the privatization of African cotton companies. The statement says much about this ancient agricultural product, the production of which began centuries ago ... in Fana.
The cotton industry is in crisis. Since 1998, the world levels, fixed by developed countries, have not stopped falling, worsening the growing impoverishment of West African cotton producers. In Mali, where cotton accounts for 45% of exports, this situation directly threatens the lives of more than 3 million people. According to Mr. Mamadou Goïta, of the Accord Association, a study carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCDE) showed that the deceleration of cotton activity caused a decline of 1.6% in household consumption. The developed countries and their well-armed allies, the World Bank and the IMF, are to blame. “In 2004, a cotton producer received 210 FCFA per kilo of cotton,” says Mr. Kefa Diarra. The World Bank thought that was too much. It threatened to cut all funding to the Malian government if it did not lower the price. In 2005, the government yielded and the cotton producers will not see any more than 160 FCFA per kilo of cotton. “When a African country wants to protect its interests, it is accused of protectionism,” Mr. Victor Nzuzi, a farmer from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), declares with irony. “On the other hand, when the United States and the European Union give subsidies to their cotton producers to protect them from China, no one has a problem with it.”
Today, after having imposed privatization on the cotton industry in Benin, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana, the World Bank is pressuring the Malian government to privatize the Malian Company for the Development of Textiles (CMDT)-a scandal that raises more than just sharp protests from the farmers who take part in the Forum of the People. “We know very well the damage caused by privatization in Benin and the Ivory Coast. We found out,” says Mèmè Diallo, who works for a trade union for the development of cotton production (Syvac, Nièna). The CMDT has certainly been criticized these last few years, but it also has had a very positive impact on development in the areas where it was introduced (literacy, women’s rights, etc). And the cotton producers do not forget it.
“No to privatization! Too much, it’s too much!” cries Ms. Emilie Akhcha of the Committee for the Self-Promotion of Sustainable Development (CADD, Bénin), come to support her Malian friends in their fight. It is a heartfelt cry that embodies the determination of all the participants in the Forum of the People.