Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso maintain spots among the top-10 largest cotton-exporting countries in the world, according a report published by the US Department of Agriculture.
The report which was released in May 2021, details the outlook of cotton production for 2021/2022.
Together, these four countries, popularly named as the cotton 4, exported 3.7m bales of the product in the 2016/17 harvest; 4.2m bales in 2017/18; 4.4m bales in 2018/19; 3.9m bales in 2019/20; and 3.8m bales in 2020/21.
Also, the Oxford Business Group (OBG), in a report indicated that the African Textile Industry is forecast to grow by a compound annual growth rate of over 4% between 2021 and 2026.
Furthermore, these huge production capacities, position West Africa as the world’s sixth-largest grower of cotton. This indicates approximately 90% of the raw product exported to South and South-east Asia for spinning and weaving into finished goods.
Meanwhile, 2% of raw cotton is processed locally in the region, highlighting significant opportunities for regional industrial development.
More so, a publication by the World Economic Forum in May 2021 revealed that like other agricultural produce, cotton production was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The four-major cotton producing countries in Africa had around 70% of their 2020 produce stuck in mills, in transit hubs or in ports, with quality also affected by extreme weather conditions.
This notwithstanding, the largest export markets for cotton are Bangladesh, accounting for 34.1% of exports; Vietnam, with 17.2%; China, with 11.8%; Indonesia, with 7.4%; Egypt, with 6.6%; Turkey, with 4.7%; Thailand, with 2.7%; India, with 2.5%; Singapore, with 2.3%; and Switzerland, with 2.1%.
International demand for cotton has grown significantly over the years, and particularly so, for West Africa. African garment patterns have gained global traction and recognition.
Opportunities for Africa’s textile industry
Currently, the EU is West Africa’s largest trade partner owing to preferential market access agreements. This also includes primary export market for West African ready-made, transformed products, which include textiles and garments.
With regards to finished products made from cotton, West Africa is up against large volumes of imported secondhand clothing or smuggled substandard fabrics. Although historically, West Africa has been dominant in exporting cotton to US and Europe, however, the influx of relatively cheap garments from China and other Asian nations, has slowly taken its toll on a once vibrant West African textile industry that is now struggling to compete.
Regional production of wax print, which is currently limited to Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, presents a significant opportunity for job creation and export earnings. Particularly, if the fabrics are sold to the US under the preferential African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by eligible countries.
Textiles are included under the US’ African Growth Opportunity Act, but not all countries are eligible. The act has been extended several times since it was signed in May 2000, and currently runs until 2025. Also, the ‘Everything but Arms initative’ (EBA) grants least developed countries including some West African nations – duty-free access to the EU market.
According to OBG, 23 African countries qualified for the third country fabric rule as of January 1, 2021 including Ghana, Liberia, Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya.