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July 26, 2011

Cameroon: Cotton farmers dream of a better future

by Hohamadou Houmfa

The global financial crisis severely affected the cotton industry, but a recent rise in the price of cotton has given a renewed sense of hope to cotton producers in Cameroon.

... many farmers have a new faith in the industry. According to figures by Cameroon's National Confederation of Cotton Producers (CNPC-C), the number of cotton producers rose from 175,000 in 2010 to 200,000 today. Hundreds of producers have rejoined the sector because things are starting to get better.

"The price per kilo has improved. In 2009, we sold to Sodecoton at 180 Central African Francs (CFA). In 2010, the price rose above 200 francs. The price should reach 255 francs per kilo by the next season," explains Wangkagué Valentin, a producer from Doukoula in the far north of the country.

The government of Cameroon is also working to do its part to improve the situation. A bag of fertilizer was subsidized to the tune of 6,800 francs in 2009 and this amount rose by 4,400 francs in 2010.

This optimism is countered by several farmers and observers of the industry. There has in fact been a decrease in production. According to figures by Sodecoton, the production of cotton went from 146,000 tons during the agricultural season 2008-2009 to 110,000 tons during the 2009-2010 season. "The blame lies with the global financial crisis which hit the industry very hard," explains a spokesperson from Sodecoton.

Beyond the decline in the output that shows a nervousness within the sector, farmers want to see the price per kilo increase substantially. If the price per kilo is fixed at 200, this makes it much more attractive to unscrupulous buyers in neighbouring Nigeria. "The state must take steps to prevent the fraudulent sale of cotton to Nigeria. Instead of selling cotton to Sodecoton for 200 CFA per kilo, like us, some of our colleagues sell it to private buyers in Nigeria at 600 CFA per kilo. It's unfair," laments Abu Sali.

In effect, Nigerian businessmen are buying cotton at the price of gold. Yet the Cameroonian farmers are virtually forced to sell their produce to Sodecoton, as each year they receive a grant from the Society to help start their businesses. This policy has been criticized by some producers.

"Sodecoton helps us to acquire products and tools. It's good. Although, the employees of the society are well paid and live much better than us the producers. It is a situation that frustrates us and needs to be reviewed," pleads one producer.

According to official statistics, Sodecoton made a profit of 2.8 billion CFA. This is much to the frustration of the producers who are now hoping the price per kilo will be increased.

Radio Netherlands

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