Once flourishing, Togo’s cotton industry is struggling.
However, the government wants to revitalize this strategic sector, notably through its recent privatization and industrialization efforts to make “white gold” a real source of income and employment for the country.
Despite ambitious forecasts, the 2020-2021 season was a big blow for Togo, which produced only 67,000 tons of cotton, a considerable drop of 43% compared to the previous year (116,000 tons).
At a press conference held in mid-June, the chairman of the board of directors of the New Cotton Company of Togo (NSCT), Simféitchéou Pré, put forward several factors to explain these poor figures, including “the poor quality of cotton seed” and “floods in the north of the country”.
On the other hand, the drop in the price of seed cotton (from 265 to 225 FCFA/kg) has pushed many producers to turn to other crops such as corn and soybeans.
“At least 40,000 cotton farmers out of 153,000 abandoned their crop during the past season,” said Koussouwè Kourouféi, president of the National Federation of Cotton Producers’ Groups (FNGPC).
The “white gold”, as it is nicknamed in the West African region, contributes only 1 to 4.3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and employs – even indirectly – only 500,000 people out of a population of 8 million.
-Covid and a faltering economy-
Although Togo reports relatively low numbers of COVID-19 infection cases and deaths, the West African nation has upheld strict emergency sanitary measures since April last year. The move has indirectly dealt a blow to its agriculture-dependent economy which relies heavily on cross-frontier trade.
As the country’s borders still remain closed, business and exports, as usual, are blocked between several of its neighbours in the region — such as states like Ghana, Benin and Ivory Coast.
Burkina Faso, Ghana and Benin were among the top five destinations for Togo’s exports in 2019, according to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The World Bank last year said in a report that the combination of closed borders, social distancing measures and restrictions on travel had delivered a heavy blow to Togo’s economic activity.
The bank has approved a $70 million credit to help Togo revive its economy — whose growth activity is forecast to accelerate by 4.8%, as per the Economy and Finance Minister Sani Yaya said in April on public television.
Asked repeatedly about reopening the border, the government has kept to its position.
“The land borders will be reopened when it is necessary,” Ihou Wateba, higher education minister who is also in charge of the coronavirus response, told a private radio channel earlier this year.
“Should we reopen the borders for fun or keep the current state of affairs? The situation is under control, that is what is important,” said one member of the government’s scientific advisory council.
Togolese authorities want to assure the population that the economy has shown itself to be “resilient” in the face of the crisis.