Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cotton is what makes Burkina go. It is the country's main source of foreign currency and contributes 5-10 per cent to the gross domestic product. More importantly, over two million people depend on it as their primary cash crop. People here can grow their own food, weave their own cloth and do without luxuries like motorbikes. But without cash in hand you can’t buy tires for your bicycle, send your children to school or pay for medical care.
Since 2004, the price of cotton has been going steadily down. In 2003, a farmer could get 210 fcfa (about 42 cents) for a kilo of cotton. Right now, it has reached a low of 145 fcfa. It’s a 31% drop that affects more than two million people in a country with a total population of under 14, 000, 000 ! Just imagine if 15% of all Americans, for example, had to accept a 31% drop in wages this year. That would affect about 45 million people! Needless to say, this is going to have a major affect on the quality of life of the average Burkinabé person. We’ll see even fewer kids in school in the fall, less food on the tables and even more deaths due to preventable and curable diseases.

They just had an article on the subject of cotton in my favourite newspaper, “l’Evenement”; It documents the unrest of the desperate farmers, plans for a possible boycott and searches for alternative buyers. And the answer to the problems, according to Sofitex, the main buyer of Burkinabé cotton? In a brilliant move, they have dispatched agents to the villages to “encourage” the farmers. Yes, they have sent out guys to tell the farmers to cheer up! Very helpful, I’m sure. “Gee, we never thought of it that way” the farmers will say to themselves. “We just need to brighten our days with a smile and all will be well. Thanks, Sofitex!“
Funny how the Sofitex, that had to be recently bailed out financially by the government, has plenty of money to pay for the salaries, vehicles and gasoline to make this silliness possible, but very little to pay the farmers.


Barbara said...

My suspicious, cynical mind immediately leaps to the possibility that the Cotton Cheerleaders will be augmented by strong-arm enforcers, smilingly telling hungry cotton farmers to cheer up -- or else!!

Pardon My French said...

I've been meaning to read Voyage aux pays du coton by Erik Orsenna...after your post I'm moving it up on my list of TBR. Love to know what form their 'encouragement' takes.