Starting this season, Burkina Faso plans to decrease the area planted with Bt cotton, which accounts for around 73% of total seed cotton production. Bt cotton is a genetically modified variant of cotton developed by Monsanto which protects against common pests, especially the bollworm. It is popular among farmers as it is less labour intensive and requires fewer inputs, requiring just two treatments of pesticides, compared with six for conventional cotton. However, Burkina Faso’s planting of Bt cotton has been a disappointment, as it has resulted in a shortening of its cotton fibre length (staple). The majority of West African cotton fibre, including Burkina Faso’s, has a medium to long staple, averaging 1 1/8 inches. However, given a poor cross between a local and American variety, the Bt cotton seeds took the shorter staple length of the American variety. In the 2013/14 season, over two-thirds of Burkina Faso’s cotton production was of lower quality medium staple length (1 3/32 and 1 1/16 inches) while only a third was of medium to high staple length (1 1/8 inch and 1 5/32 inch). As a result, Burkinabe cotton fibre trades at a discount to other West African origins, while the second-largest producer Mali, which produces large quantities of cotton with 1 1/8 inch staple length, commands a premium.
The poor implementation of Bt cotton cultivation in Burkina Faso, which has not even offset quality issues with improved yields as hoped, has damaged the reputation of Burkinabe cotton, which is increasingly viewed as a poorer quality origin by the textile industry. This has led to a reluctant volte face by Burkina Faso’s cotton companies, especially Sofitex, which had staked its reputation on the new variety. Over the next three years, Burkina Faso’s Bt cotton production will be reduced to 53% of total output from its current 73% of output, with the balance made up with conventional cotton. In tandem, Sofitex is working to improve the faulty variety in 2015/16 instead of waiting for Monsanto to deliver improved seeds by 2017.
2015/16 outlook: cotton production is looking strong
The outlook for Burkina Faso’s 2015/16 cotton season appears strong, despite the unfavourable international price environment. Cotton companies are eyeing a production record this season, given the strong fixed producer price and the increase in area planted to 738,181 ha. This reflects the re-entry of 10,000-12,000 farmers into the sector, attracted by favourable farmgate prices, confirming the adage: ‘Price is the best fertiliser’. The Association inteprofessionnelle du coton’s seed cotton production target of 800,000 MT—a 13% increase from last year’s outturn—is realistic, given government efforts to support a rise in production. But the strength of output will depend heavily on the arrival of seasonal rains, as Burkina Faso’s cotton sector is entirely rain-fed, and the impending return of the El Niño weather phenomenon in late 2015 could bring drier weather to West Africa, cutting yields and restraining any increase in output.