Managing trade policy and climate risks are critical to supporting the more than 25 million farmers who grow cotton, experts gathered here emphasized.
“Cotton represents so much more than just a commodity: It is a culture, a way of life, and a tradition that finds its roots at the heart of human civilization,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu at a World Cotton Day event held on Thursday at the World Trade Organization’s headquarters here.
“Cotton provides employment and income for some of the poorest or most remote rural areas in the world,” Qu added.
World Cotton Day is being held at the initiative of the “C-4” countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali – and is being hosted at the WTO with the collaboration of FAO, the UN Conference on Trade and Development and other organizations.
“It is critical that the cotton sector meets the highest standards of sustainability at all stages of the value chain”, the Director-General said.
Natural fibers are opportunity
Qu also spoke at a side event organized by FAO to discuss market and policy trends for the cotton sector, which has an annual turnover of around $50 billion with a production of 25 million tonnes in 75 countries. International trade in cotton is estimated at US$ 18 billion annually.
Cotton is a major source of livelihoods and incomes for many rural smallholders and laborers, including women, providing employment and income to some of the poorest rural areas in the world.
In many, regions, cotton is the only viable economic activity available to rural households and communities and the sector benefits more than 100 million families worldwide. For example, cotton export earnings help to finance 50 percent of the food import bills for Mali and 22.5 percent of those for Chad, while they more than offset the cost of food imports in Burkina Faso, accounting for as much as 60 percent of the country’s export revenues.
A particular focus of the discussion was how to tackle the opportunities offered by growing demand for natural fibers in recent years, as part of a marked trend toward sustainability which has provided further market opportunities for cotton fibres. Despite this there is a loss in market share for the natural fiber triggered by robust demand for the man-made fibers, most notably polyester.
In addition, there are exogenous risks because of climate change.
FAO has long offered developing countries technical and policy support for boosting productivity and creating more opportunities in the cotton value chain. There is a need to keep increasing productivity, investment and bring innovation and sustainable standards to increase the benefits of the cotton sector.
FAO’s South-South framework has also been leveraged in the cotton sector, in which China and India are the biggest producers and Brazil the second exporter after the United States of America.