Benin MapThe Republic of Benin was once one of the most powerful empires in West Africa. The most widely grown crops in Benin are maize, cowpeas, sorghum/millet, and cotton. Although cotton is grown by barely one third of the farmers in Benin, it plays an important part of the rural economy. Its contribution to the GDP is estimated at around 10% and it accounts for over 70% of agricultural export value. About 98% of cotton fibre is exported and barely 1% is used for local consumption. The downstream industry (spinning, knitting/weaving, colouring, confection) is limited to only a few firms.

Cotton in Benin is cultivated exclusively under rain-fed conditions. About 2 million persons are dependent on cotton. The main cotton variety that is grown all over the country is STAM 18 A. The quality of cotton available in Benin is 29mm with a ginning out-turn of about 42-44%. Most of the cotton is cultivated in the northern parts of Benin, mainly in Karimama, Malanville, Banikoara, Gogounou, Segbana, Sinande, Kalale, Bember’eke, Nikki, N’Dali, Perere and Tchaourou.

The area under cotton in Benin was about 2000 ha in 1960, which increased to 150,000 ha in 1990 and further to 400,000 ha by 1998. Since then, it has been falling and currently the area under cotton cultivation is estimated at 200,000 ha. The yields in Benin were in the range of 250- 320 kg/ha lint during 1960-1980 but started improving after that to reach the present level of 500 kg/ha. Cotton production was very low at about 1000-18000 metric tonnes during 1960 to 1984, after which it increased to a range of 120,000 -170,000 metric tonnes between 1995 and 2004. The current annual production stands at about 100,000 metric tonnes.

In general agricultural practices are reported to be sub-optimal, in particular concerning seeding dates, late weeding and late fertilizer application and insufficient treatments which do not correspond to the recommended doses and strengthen resistances in insects. The major constraints of production are related to insect pest damage of bollworms and sucking pests, due to which the productivity and area are constantly declining. Training of farmers in the use of pesticides is not adequate.

Rain-fed organic cotton production began in Benin in the 1996/97 season & has increased significantly over the past twenty years. The area under organic cotton grew from 500 hectares in 2005 to an estimated 1,800 hectares in 2008. The average yield is 400-450 kg/ha which is lower than local yields of 600-900 kg/ha. Two factors compensate for lower organic yields. First, organic farmers do not have to pay back input credit loans & secondly, they receive a price premium of 20% above the local conventional price.

There is an official five year moratorium on the introduction, testing and commercialisation of genetically modified crops including cotton in Benin.

A number of processing units were set up in Benin. SOBETEX was created by a French private group; IDATEX was created by a joint partnership between the Government of Benin and European investors. SITEX was set up by the government and it merged into a joint partnership with Chinese investors in 2002.

The industry covers the whole value chain but the activity is regularly shrinking and processes less than 2% of the lint production. The sector is also facing an increasing competition from imports and second-hand garments, high cost of energy and low productivity of labour. All companies are facing considerable financial difficulties despite textiles being a government priority.

The cotton sector of Benin was a success story until the mid 1990s. It is the first country in FCFA zone to have deeply reformed its cotton sector in the 1990s through liberalisation and privatisation process. The reform process included the setting up of a complex institutional structure, aimed at introducing private investment in the sector and at ensuring coordination between actors. The outcome of these reforms was below expectation and resulted in the sharp decline of the sector. After a decade of difficult implementation of the reform, the situation seemed to stabilise in 2007/08.

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